Colossians

1:21-23

2. The person and work of Christ, 1:15-23

ii] Reconciliation

Argument

Paul, in words of high Christology, has spoken of Christ's role as creator, head of the church and agent of reconciliation, v15-20. Now, in the passage before us, Paul reminds his readers of their own reconciliation - "you who were estranged from his family, God has reconciled to himself."

 
Issues

i] Context: See 1:1-2.

 

ii] Background: See 1:1-2.

 

iii] Structure: This passage, touching on the subject of reconciliation, presents as follows:

The essence of divine revelation, v21-23:

The Colossians' former condition, v21;

The Colossians' present condition, v22-23:

blameless, v22

"provided that you" remain true to the gospel, v23.

 

iv] Interpretation:

Paul's now addresses the issue of reconciliation as it applies to the Colossians. They were once "alienated from God", but now "reconciled". In v22, Paul explains that reconciliation was made possible through Christ's atonement. "Christ's death in his body of flesh" achieved for his readers good-standing in the sight of God - "holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation." In v23 Paul reminds his readers that this grace, encapsulated in the gospel message, comes with a condition; for this gift of reconciliation to remain theirs, they must stay the course with a firm faith. Paul concludes in a way that leads into the next topic of his letter, namely, the apostolic ministry. He does this by commenting on the gospel and his role as a minister of the gospel.

 

Justification: Verse 22 encapsulates the gospel, God's important message to humanity concerning his grace/kindness appropriated in Christ. The verse is virtually a statement of justification, namely that through Christ's death we are right with God. The debate over this verse concerns whether our becoming "holy in his sight", of becoming morally perfect and therefore "free from accusation", is a present reality or a future hope. Commentators divide, but it seem likely that Paul's notion of justification entails a present state of holiness in the sight of God. This is confirmed by his constant encouragement that believers should strive to become what they are. This is not an argument for perfectionism, for a sinless Christianity, but rather that God views the believer as sinless, which state (a charged word!) a believer is to press toward - be what you are.

 

Perseverance: The other interesting debating-point in this passage is found in v23. The believer's possession of a state of holiness comes with a condition. The once saved always saved debate ranges far and wide, but here the issue is simple and to the point, a believer can fall away from God's grace by failing to continue in their faith, by failing to rely on the saving work of Christ. The loss of one's standing before God is not caused by a moral failure, but by giving up on Christ.

 

Greek: In the Greek text these three verses form one sentence with the main verb apikathllaxen, "he reconciled", modified by four adverbial participles. Harris structures the sentence nicely:

And you

at one time estranged ..., v21a - previous state

but now he reconciled ...., v22a - present state

in order to present you ...., v22b - purpose

    provided you continue .... v23a - condition

 

v] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the pew-level sermon notes Reconciliation

 
Text - 1:21

The essence of divine reconciliation, v21-23. In v20 Paul tells us that Christ's work of reconciliation achieves "peace" for "all thing". He now brings the notion of reconciliation, and its end, "peace", down to a personal level. The believers in Colossae were, like Paul, once estranged from God by sin. Their state was one of enmity, rather than peace. They had no peace with God, and therefore were not at peace with each other.

kai uJmaV pro. "once you" - and you. Paul now applies his words concerning reconciliation to "you" Gentiles.

pote adv. "once" - at one time, formerly. Temporal adverb; not one particular point in time, but generally "you used to be ....." lost, estranged .... and therefore in need of reconciliation.

ontaV aphllotriwmenouV (apollitriow) perf. pas. part. "you were alienated from [God]" - being foreigners, strangers. Although rather irregular, we seem to have a perfect periphrastic construction formed by the present tense of the verb to-be + the perfect participle of "alienate", with the verb to-be also as a participle. This may indicate an adverbial clause, temporal, "when you were estranged", or better, a predicate adjective conjoined to ecqrouV, "enemies", by kai; "alienated and hostile in mind." The passive, "having been alienated/estranged", implies that something has happened in the past to alienate the Gentiles from God, but this is probably not the intended sense. Their state of being in a lost condition is the likely sense - they were far away from God, did not know him as a friend. "Time was, when you were estranged from God", Cassirer.

th/ dianoia/ (a) dat. "[were enemies] in your minds" - [enemies/hostile] in the mind/thinking/attitude. The dative may be locative, expressing where the Gentiles are enemies of God, or reference, "enemies with respect to the mind." Possibly "hostile in attitude" = an intended hostility toward God. The relationship of this phrase, along with the following one, with "alienated from God", is open to speculation. For example, Lightfoot suggests that both phrases describe how the Gentiles are far away from God - they are far away in their "intentions" and in their "evil works." "You were God's enemies, both in your thinking and in your evil deeds."

en + dat. "because of [your evil behavior]" - by/in [works evil]. This preposition can give a causal sense, so the NIV, "because". Yet, surely evil behavior is caused by a "hostile attitude / enemies in your mind" toward divine truth. "Godlessness naturally leads to evil actions", O'Brien; their attitude was evil and so as a result, their deeds were evil. So the preposition is probably instrumental expressing "the means by which the enmity located in the disposition comes to expression", Moo; "[God's] enemies in heart and mind, as your evil deeds showed", REB. "These evil works reveal the hostility of the mind", Campbell.

 
v22

Yet, this enmity no longer exists because of Christ's reconciling work. The believer achieves peace with God through Christ's physical death. Paul does not go on to explain how Christ's death can move the sinner from their state of condemnation to one of acceptance before God; an exposition of the atonement is obviously outside his brief at this point in time. In this passage Paul focuses on the results of Christ's death. Peace with God, reconciliation, through Christ's sacrificial death, involves being presented before God holy, without blemish, and thus free from accusation. This identification with Christ involves our becoming as Christ is, righteous before God. Therefore, we stand totally approved before God, holy and acceptable, reconciled and at peace with Him, with all the benefits of salvation now. This point obviously serves to counter the Colossian heretics who see fullness in the Christian life as something achieved through law-obedience.

In this verse, the three adjectives, holy, pure and faultless, describe the blameless state of a believer in the presence of God through the sacrificial death of Christ. All three start with the letter alpha A, heightening the impact of the clause through alliteration. They are also words that have a cultic background, as does "present", ie. present a sacrifice to God.

nuni "[but] now" - Intensive form of "now". Temporal adverb, but possibly introducing a summary statement LN. The "now" may be this moment in time, but more likely it is the time in history when God has acted in Christ.

apokathllaxen (apokatallassw) aor. "he has reconciled you" - he reconciled. The aorist "he reconciled" following the perfect "having been alienated" may seem a problem in time terms, but the different tenses describe two states. The Colossians were in one state, but because of a definitive act by Christ, they are now in another. Textual variants include a passive participle "having been reconciled" and the passave "have been reconciled." Irrespective of the textual varients, the meaning is clear: "God has restored your relationship with him", "God has made you his friends."

en + dat. "by" - in/by. The preposition is taken as instrumental by the NIV, "by", ie. God has reconciled us by means of Christ's sacrificial death on the cross (lit. by the body of his flesh [physical body] through the death). Yet it could be locative, "in", ie. we are reconciled to God in our participation in / identification with the person of Christ, dia, "through" (expressing the means) his death on the cross. Both possibilities are theologically sound.

thV sarkoV (x koV) "[Christ's] physical [body]" - [the body] of flesh [of him]. The genitive is adjectival, attributive, limiting "body", as NIV.

parasthsai (paristhmi) aor. inf. "to present" - present, bring into the presence of, stand by. The verb is probably transitive, with God as the subject and "you" the object, but note JB. opts for intransitive, "now you are able to appear before him." The infinitive may form a final clause expressing purpose, "in order to present you / bring you into his presence ...", NRSV. The sense is then of a future presentation in glory. Yet it may form a consecutive clause expressing result; "with the result that you stand before him ....". The sense is then of a present reality, we even now stand before our God, perfect in his sight through the blood of Christ. Most commentators go with the first option, but the second is also theologically sound; see notes above.

uJmaV pro. "you" - Accusative direct object of the verb "to present." The following three alpha qualities, "holy", "blameless" and "above reproach", together serve as the object complement of "you", all standing in a double accusative construction.

katenwpion + gen. "in his sight" - before, in front of. Spacial; "brought you into his own presence", Barclay.

 
v23

As for perseverance in this hope, it is not dependent on a life of faithful obedience, rather, it is dependent upon a continued trust "in the hope promised by the gospel." The gospel promises the gift of eternal life through faith in Christ, which gift is always ours while faith remains. Disobedience, failure, not even a weak faith, is able to separate us from God's free gift of new life in Christ.

ei ge + pres. ind. "if" - if indeed. The ge is added for emphasis. Introducing a conditional clause, 3rd. class, where the condition is assumed to be true, "if, as is the case, ..... then .....", ie. Paul is sure that the Colossians will continue in their faith. The apadosis, the then clause, is actually v22. Being presented holy in God's sight is conditional, it belongs to the believer, "provided that / as long as you continue in your faith ..."

epimenete (epimenw) pres. "continue" - remain, abide, continue. Describing an active perseverance rather than just a static abiding in faith.

th/ pistei (iV ewV) dat. "in your faith" - in the faith. The NIV has taken th/ pistei personally, "the faith" = "your faith", but it can be read as "the Faith" = Christianity. The dative may be instrumental, "continue by means of faith", ie. by means of exercising your faith/trust in Christ. Yet, it is more likely local, sphere, "continue in your faith/trust." The object of this trust is possibly Christ, but more likely the gospel - "persevere in your trust of / firm reliance in the gospel."

teqemeliwmenoi (qemeliow) perf. pas. part. "established [and firm]" - having been founded, established [and steadfast]. The participle could be classified adverbial, modal, expressing the manner of the abiding, although when the verb epimenw takes the sense "to continue", it is inclined to take a supplementary participle, supplementing / completing the thought of the verb; "if at least you continue firm and steadfast in the exercise of faith", Goodspeed.

metakinoumenoi (metakinew) pas/mid part "[not] moved [from]" - moving away, shifting from. Either passive, "removed", or middle, eg. "never letting yourself drift away", JB. The negated participle as above; "if you adhere ....., instead of shifting from the hope you have learned in the gospel .... which has been preached to every creature under heaven and of which I Paul have been made a minister", Moffatt.

thV elpidoV (iV idoV) "the hope" - The hope is the promise of an eternal right-standing in the sight of God through faith in the faithfulness of Christ, which promise is contained in the gospel.

tou euanneliou (on) gen. "[held out] in the gospel" - of the gospel [which you heard]. The genitive" is adjectival, possibly possessive, "the hope that belongs to / is attached to the gospel", or idiomatic / producer, "the hope which is produced by the gospel." The gospel, news, important news (not necessarily good news for those who don't believe) details/contains the hope of glory, the promise of salvation, the divine message the Colossians heard and believed.

ou| gen. pro. "this is the gospel that you [heard]" - which you [heard]. Genitive of direct object after the verb "to hear." The antecedent is presumably "the gospel".

tou khruxqentoV (khrussw) gen. pas. part. "that has been proclaimed" - the one having been proclaimed/preached. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting/describing "gospel", genitive in agreement with gospel; "the gospel which you heard and which has been proclaimed."

en + dat. "to [every creature]" - in all creation. The NIV has read the preposition as if eiV, "to, toward", spacial, of movement toward, but space/sphere, distributive, is also possible. Paul crafts two phrases informing us about the gospel. In this, the first, he makes the point that the gospel has been preached "in all creation" = throughout the world, by which Paul would normally mean the Roman Empire, although the second phrase,"beneath the arch of heaven", implies "all mankind."

th/ uJpo + acc. "under heaven" - The article serves as an adjectivizer standing in agreement with the dative krisei, "creation", turning the prepositional phrase introduced by the spacial uJpo, "under, below", into a relative clause; "which is under heaven", limiting "every creature."

ou| gen. pro. "of which" - which. Genitive in agreement with the genitive tou euaggeliou, "the gospel", but viewed also as possessive, or verbal, objective; "and I Paul, have become its servant", Harris.

egw "I [Paul]" - As with "Paul", emphatic by use.

egenomhn (ginomai) aor. "have become" - [of which] became [I Paul a minister]. Paul sees himself as a servant of the gospel, in that he proclaims it.

 

Colossians Introduction

Exposition

 

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