Colossians 1:21–29. Take It or Leave It?

Key Notes: Paul and Christ's suffering. The Seven-fold Mystery. Christ in you. Admonishing and teaching. Take it or leave it? Calvin and Arminius kiss each other.

This section of the book seems to be an interval between two large sections, the great hymn of Christ the Creator (1:15–20) and the contamination of Christian belief in Colosse (2:8–3:4). It contains seven or eight small messages, both tender and intense.

1:21–22 We who were estranged, hostile evil-doers, He reconciled in His body of flesh. The expression reconciled in his “body of flesh by His death” brings up images of a body in ribbons, torn by the dreaded Roman whip. That He allowed Himself to go to that extremity in the face of humans who hated Him, is incomprehensible. He did it to spare us the wrath of God and “…to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before Him.”

1:22–23 “…to present you holy…provided that you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the Gospel….”

Jesus paid with His life to see to it that we are faultless in the end—provided that we persevere to the end.
We see the two issues side by side: His part and our part; His sacrifice, our holy living; God’s sovereignty, our good works; preservation on His part, perseverance on ours.
Calvin and Arminius embrace each other. For more examples see the appendix.

1:23 “…preached to every creature under heaven….” See Col.1:6 for notes on early, widespread evangelism.

1:24 Paul rejoices in suffering for the sake of the Colossians, as he is for the whole Church. The theme of suffering in the Gospel ministry is a familiar theme.

“…share abundantly in Christ's sufferings….” (IICor.1:5)
“…always carrying in the body the death of Jesus…always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake….” (IICor.4:10–11)
“…the fellowship of His sufferings….” (Phil.3:10 KJV)
“…I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.” (Gal.6:17 )
“…provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him." (Rom.8:17)
Suffering is part of the Christian package, not to escape, not to incite, but to rejoice in.

What puzzles us is his statement “I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions (or persecutions) for the sake of His body, the Church.“ First we note that the word “afflictions” (Gr. thlipsis) is not used of Christ’s atonement elsewhere.

Second, we know that the atonement is complete in itself.

“But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God, then to wait until His enemies should be made a stool for His feet. For by a single offering, He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.” (Heb.10:12–14)

So Paul’s suffering is not connected with Christ’s atonement.

Third, Paul does not advocate self-punishment. 2:23

And finally, Jesus said to the Pharisees “Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers….” “…that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth.” (Matt.23:32, 35). And Revelation suggests that there is something like a quota of suffering and martyrdom that will be accomplished over the history of the world. (Rev.6:11). I think Paul may be thinking of contributing to that quota. Actually, it is part of his job description. Acts 9:16

1:25–29 Paul’s task is further described as making known the mystery, a secret concealed in the past. It is a rich mystery: Christ in you, the hope of glory. It is the central mystery in a set of seven mysteries described in the NT, all part of the master plan.


The Seven Mysteries

  1. The master plan. “For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of His will, according to His purpose which He set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth. “ (Ephesians 1:9–10)
  2. The incarnation. “Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of our religion:   He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.”(I Timothy 3:16).
  3. The crucifixion. “When I came to you, brethren, I did not come proclaiming to you the mystery of God in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” (I Cor.2:1)
  4. Christ in you. “…the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (1:27).
  5. The Church. “…you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ…that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.” (Eph.3:4–6). Jews and Gentiles will be together in the Church.
  6. The World-wide Kingdom. “...according to the revelation of the mystery which was kept secret for long ages, but is now disclosed and through the prophetic writings is made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith….” (Rom.16:25)
  7. The Resurrection—ours. “Behold I show you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.” (I Corinthians 15:51–52 KJV)

Unlike the expression “in Christ” which is used many times in Paul’s letters, “Christ in you” (the central mystery) is uncommon—there are only 4–6 citations. (Gal.4:19; Gal. 2:20; IICor.13:5; Col.1:27). Both ideas are difficult to grasp. At the least, “in Christ” means to be in union with Him and the Christian community. (Gal.3:20). Christ in us, on the other hand, refers to personal His indwelling presence. The phrase occurs most importantly in Jn.14:23 where Jesus says

“If a man loves Me, he will keep My word and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. “
“…for He (the Holy Spirit) dwells with you and will be in you.” (Jn.14:17)

It is said so simply, almost humbly, that we are brought up short. God the Father, and Jesus Christ the Son of God will make Their home with us? And the Holy Spirit as well? Indwelling of humans by God is certainly a mystery beyond comprehension or description.

The only glimpse of God indwelling humans in the OT is spoken of the Holy Spirit. Mic.3:8; Isa.42:1; Isa.61:1; IISam.23:2

1:28–2:5 “Him we proclaim, warning and...teaching…." Hendriksen has pointed out the connection between admonition and teaching and gives several illustrations. In each case Paul gives a word of instruction followed by teaching Christ’s example.

1:28–2:2 He toils, striving with all the energy which God inspires in him, striving greatly. He is going after “every man”—three times—to present them mature in Christ. His intensity is impressive because these people were not his personal converts and he could have easily left that burden with Epaphras. He has plenty on his plate as it is.

I have been inclined to have a “take it or leave it” attitude toward teaching. I crack the nut and offer the meat for students to take or reject. I assume that they are motivated enough to come, and therefore have an investment in their own growth. I believe the Holy Spirit takes the Word and applies it, so my responsibility ends when I go out the door. I find no such attitude in Paul. He is working fiercely on their behalf. And we might ask how he toils, and strives when he is on a chain in Rome. The answer must be that Paul is praying intensely for this city church that he knows only second hand. He cares more about them than they do. Shame on me for perfunctory praying and small care for my fellow believers.


A beginning list of examples of God’s sovereignty and our responsibility side by side. Calvin and Arminius kiss each other.

“…no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him. Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” (Matt.11:27–28)

“The Son of man goes as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”(Matt.26:24)

“..this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. “ (Acts 2:23)

“And now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance as did also your rulers. But what God foretold by the mouth of the prophets…He thus fulfilled.” (Acts3:18)

“…for truly in this city there were gathered against Your Holy Servant Jesus, whom You did anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your plan had predestined to take place.” (Acts 4:27–28)

“We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared before-hand, that we should walk in them. “ (Eph.2:10)

“…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Phil.2:12–13)

“…He has now reconciled…in order to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before Him, provided that you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the Gospel….” (Col.1:22–23)

“For you have died and your life is hid with Christ in God.” “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you.” (Col.3:3,5)

“To this He called you through our Gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brethren stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us.” (IIThes.2:14–15)