IN CHRIST JESUS
The Sphere of the Believer's Life
Arthur Tappan Pierson,
The Epistle to the Colossians
In Colossians again we meet the phrase, in Christ Jesus, in the very salutation (1:4).
["Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all the saints" (Colossians 1:4).
And in the prayer that immediately follows, "that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will,"
["For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and Spiritual understanding" (Colossians 1:9).]
et cetera, we first strike the great word of
this epistle, pleroma-- an untranslatable word.
The substance of the teaching of Colossians is this: In Christ Jesus we have the pleroma of God. This idea is inwrought into the structure of the epistle and curiously into its language.*
*We meet here and there words into which the root pleroo enters: "filled," 1:9;
["For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled <Greek, pleroo> with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and Spiritual understanding" (Colossians 1:9).]
["For it pleased the Father that in Him should all fulness <Greek, pleroo> dwell" (Colossians 1:19).]
["For in Him dwelleth all the fulness <Greek, pleroo> of the Godhead bodily" (Colossians 2:9).]
"fill up," 1:24;
["Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up <Greek, pleroo> that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for His body's sake, which is the Church" (Colossians 1:24).]
"fulfil the word," 1:25;
["Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil <Greek, pleroo> the Word of God" (Colossians 1:25).]
"full assurance," 2:2;
["That their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance <Greek, pleroo> of understanding, to the acknowledgement of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ" (Colossians 2:2).]
["And ye are complete <Greek, pleroo> in Him, which is the Head of all principality and power" (Colossians 2:10).]
["Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete <Greek, pleroo> in all the will of God" (Colossians 4:12).]
The idea is that all this divine fullness
dwells in Him, and may dwell in us by our dwelling in Him.
This introduces us to the power and perfection of Christ, as the sphere of our new life: in Him, complete.
Here, as in Ephesians, there are ten blessings that are already ours, and one that is to be ours at His coming. And it is curious to compare the ten things of Ephesians, with those of this epistle:
|to be gathered in one||to be manifested|
Three in both lists are alike
(which we mark with an asterisk), all the rest are unlike;.but in Ephesians the
list has reference to oneness of saints in Christ and the present privilege of
life in Him; in Colossians, to the completeness of all and every believer in
Him, and the perfection and power which are realized in Christ.
Hence the same figure in both epistles: Christ the Head of Body; there with reference to unity, and here, to vitality. The ruling thought then in this epistle is found in the fullness of Christ, as the sphere of our life. He is filled with God, and in Him we also are filled with God. In fact the word, pleroma, as already remarked, cannot be translated. It means more than fullness. It is a term used by philosophy, and borrowed by Paul from philosophic authors. They claimed to know the secret of something that filled up all human deficiency―a plenitude of knowledge and power. Paul claims that in Christ the true pleroma is found: that He as the Son of God has all the plenitude of the godhead in Him, in full measure, and running over―and so, if we are in Him, all that divine pleroma becomes ours. Whatever perfection is in God, in His knowledge, power, strength, wisdom, love, holiness, thus fills up to the full our measure of capacity.
In the light of this truth the whole epistle becomes luminous:
1:27. Paul speaks of the riches of the glory of this mystery―"which is Christ in you, the hope of glory." [Colossians 1:27].
1:28. "That we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus." [Colossians 1:28].
1:19. "It pleased the Father that in him should all [the pleroma] dwell. [Colossians 1:19].
2:3. "In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." [Colossians 2:3].
2:6-7. As ye have received... Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk... in him: rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith." [Colossians 2:6-7].
Note particularly verses 8, 9, etc., as the heart of the epistle.
["8 Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. 9 For in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily" (Colossians 2:8-9).]
He warns against philosophy, which holds out its false pleroma, and says: "In Him dwelleth all the [pleroma] of the godhead bodily, and ye [have the pleroma] in him" (2:9-10).
["9 For in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. 10 And ye are complete in Him, which is the Head of all principality and power" (Colossians 2:9-10).]
If the word pleroma is
untranslatable, what shall we say of the thought of the epistle! What words
shall adequately translate such a conception into human language, or convey it
to human minds! It is the same essential idea as that which seeks expression in
that last and greatest parable ever spoken by our Lord: the vine and the
branches. There several words form the salient points of thought, arresting
attention: vine, branch, and fruit; abide, ask; love, joy. The grand word of the
seven is abide, and the grand lesson is absolute and perpetual dependence on the
one hand, and perfect and perpetual fullness of blessing on the other.
Let us remember that in the vine dwells all vegetable fullness, all the fullness of soil and sap, of life and strength; and that the branch abides in the vine that it may be filled with all the fullness of the vine. Branch life, like limb life in the body, can never become independent. The child may outgrow the mother's care, and support and nourish the parent; but the branch can never outgrow its dependence, nor can the limb ever become independent of the body. The same in nature and nurture, in root and soil and sap, in life and growth, the very leaves, blooms, clusters of the branch are the leaves, blooms, and clusters of the vine. It is the full life of the vine, pushing its way through the branch's channels, that exhibits itself in every new twig, bud, flower, grape; and, as the grape rounds out into luscious fullness, it is the vine which imparts its own fullness in the juice and color and perfection of the cluster.
The disciple abides in Christ, and so his asking becomes Christ's asking; his love and joy are in fact Christ's love and joy abiding in him and filling him. So what in the parable is suggested or enfolded, is, in this epistle, unfolded. In Him dwelleth all the fullness of the godhead bodily and substantially, and we are filled full in Him of the same pleroma of God. The thought is inexpressible. Even the Holy Ghost finds no intelligible terms to convey it; all attempts are like groanings unutterable.
The ten or eleven specific statements of what the disciple has in Christ, all have reference to this pleroma or fullness of power and perfection. We are rooted in Him―and so like a plant we have fullness of strength and life―so well expressed by the roots which take fast hold on the soil and absorb whatever promotes growth and strength.
We are built up in Him―like the building which gets stability from its rock foundation, and beauty and completeness as carried on to completion.
When we are taught that in Him we are circumcised, buried, made alive, risen, seated, hid in God, and to be manifested when He is―one of the greatest thoughts of the Word is put before us. Christ is the great representative Man―the second and last Adam, the Son of Man. All that He experienced, from His miraculous conception to His session at God's right hand, is representative―that is, it is in our behalf, typical as well as historical, and we are to look upon ourselves as going through all these experiences in Him. When Adam was on trial, the whole race he represented was on trial, and his fall was representative. When Christ was on trial, it was a representative of the race―the last Adam―who was tempted, and triumphed.
God in Christ sees us, who believe, victorious over the devil and death, the world and the flesh. It is a great mystery of grace; but in Him we were circumcised, and put away fleshly lusts―in Him buried, that the old corrupt nature might be left in the tomb, and in Him by the Holy Ghost we were made alive unto God, raised to live a new life, by His power lifted to the heavenly sphere of life; so that now our real life is not that which is seen. It is a hidden life. The world knows us not, because it knew Him not. The springs of our true life are in Him, and in heaven. This thought is not capable of conveyance by human language or illustration.
Zechariah seeks to forecast it in the vision of the golden candlestick, whose lamps are fed through golden pipes from the two living olive trees. Every disciple is united to Christ by unseen channels, and the life we live is by the faith of the Son of God―as the branch receives life from the vine, or the plant from the sun and air of heaven. Every day of holy living is a day of living contact with the invisible world and the unseen God―heaven's power is communicated to earthly beings. And not until Christ is manifested, coming out of His long hiding beside the Father, will this hidden life of ours appear. When He is manifested in glory with His resurrection body, and ours is made like unto His and we are seen bearing His perfect likeness, it will be seen that all this is absolutely true; as He is, so are we in this world.
Christ came to do God's will, and took in His incarnation a body prepared for Him, and in a higher sense, another body―the Church―after His resurrection. This body is thus seated with Him in the heavenlies, and all enemies are to become the footstool of Christ and His mystical body, bruised under His feet. We have a right in Him to this exalted seat in the heavenlies, and to sit down with Him in peace, as those who have the sense of a finished work and completed conquest, henceforth in Him expecting―anticipating, that all foes will be made our footstool. So far as we can take this in by faith, they are already subdued. He says, to every believer who can receive it, "Stretch forth thy withered hand!" and henceforth to find restored faculties for holy work; "Rise, take up thy bed, thou paralytic!" henceforth to find power to walk with God; "Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity!" henceforth be erect and upright and no longer bowed down and bent into deformity by Satan.
The greatest difficulty today among us believers is that we have no true apprehension of the actual present fullness, the pleroma of divine power, wisdom, strength, victory, which is in God for us, and may be found in Christ, as the sphere of our full life and energy. There is the secret of all failure: we do not avail ourselves of this fullness of God. We do not practically believe our high calling, nor perceive the riches of the glory of God's inheritance in the saints, and consequently the exceeding greatness of His power to usward who believe―the standard of which is the working of that omnipotence in Christ, when God raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His own right hand in the heavenlies. Oh, the unclaimed riches of the believer in Christ Jesus!
This pleroma may be viewed in two aspects, and is so presented in this epistle: the completeness in Christ, first, as my representative before God; and, secondly, as God's representative before me.
It must be remembered that He is both the Son of Man and the Son of God, and perfect in both relations.
It is a curious fact, showing the marvelous completeness also of the teaching whereby this truth is presented, that there are but two cases in this epistle where this word, pleroma, recurs, and they mark the divisions of thought we are now considering. Chapter 1:19: "It pleased the Father that in Him should all fulness dwell."
["For it pleased the Father that in Him should all fulness dwell" (Colossians 1:19).]
This is spoken of Him as Head of the body, the Church, which is a human institution, composed of redeemed sons of men. Chapter 2:9: "For in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily."
["For in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily" (Colossians 2:9).]
Here the statement is made as
to His relation to the Godhead, not manhood.
In Him we are circumcised, buried, risen, seated at God's right hand; that is said of Him as my representative; what is true of the Head of the body, is true of the body whose head He is.
But, when we are told that in Him we have redemption, that by Him God reconciles all things to Himself; that in Him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, it is manifest that the fullness of God toward us is meant.
These two thoughts may find an imperfect illustration in an advocate at court. Let us suppose a very difficult case at law, but on which everything hangs, property, reputation, character, life. I secure the services of the most competent and eminent of lawyers. Now, what does he do? First, he represents my case before the court, but he also represents the court before me. He could not take my case in charge if he did not understand my case perfectly, nor could he if he did not understand the law perfectly. Christ is my Advocate before God, for He is the Son of Man and understands me; He is the Son of God and understands Him; and being perfect in both relations, He becomes my Mediator; in Him I have a perfect Representative Godward, and God has a perfect Representative manward.
The practical bearing of this double truth is immense; a whole lifetime will give us but a glimpse of the infinite value of such a Saviour. As Son of Man everything about His human character and life has reference to the believer. As He is, so are we in this world. Because I believe in Him, and am united to Him, all His experiences become my own. His sinless perfection, His divine patience, His holy obedience, His triumph over Satan, are imputed to me: in Him I am presented as perfect before God. But, as Son of God, whatever He is to me, God is. I am to know the mind and heart and disposition of God toward me by knowing Christ's attitude toward me, because as He is, so is God in heaven. Hence He said to Philip: "Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me, hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father?" (John 14:9).
In this Epistle to the Colossians we reach almost the climax of the scripture teaching about the second and last Adam. Four or five passages need to be carefully studied by those who would take in the full meaning of this wonderful teaching: Psalm 8,
["1 O LORD our LORD, how excellent is Thy Name in all the Earth! Who hast set Thy glory above the Heavens. 2 Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast Thou ordained strength because of Thine enemies, that Thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger. 3 When I consider Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which Thou hast ordained; 4 what is man, that Thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that Thou visitest him? 5 For Thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. 6 Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of Thy hands; Thou hast put all things under his feet: 7 all sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field; 8 the fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas. 9 O LORD our LORD, how excellent is Thy Name in all the Earth!" (Psalms 8:1-9).]
compared with Hebrews 2:6-18,
["6 But one in a certain place testified, saying, What is man, that Thou art mindful of him? or the son of man, that Thou visitest him? 7 Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; thou crownedst him with glory and honour, and didst set him over the works of Thy hands: 8 Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him. But now we see not yet all things put under him. 9 But we see Jesus, Who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that He by the grace of God should taste death for every man. 10 For it became Him, for Whom are all things, and by Whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the Captain of Their Salvation perfect through sufferings. 11 For both He that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause He is not ashamed to call them brethren, 12 saying, I will declare Thy Name unto My brethren, in the midst of the Church will I sing praise unto Thee. 13 And again, I will put My trust in Him. And again, Behold I and the children which God hath given Me. 14 Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same; that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the Devil; 15 and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. 16 For verily He took not on Him the nature of angels; but He took on Him the seed of Abraham. 17 Wherefore in all things it behoved Him to be made like unto His brethren, that He might be a Merciful and Faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. 18 For in that He Himself hath suffered being tempted, He is able to succour them that are tempted" (Hebrews 2:6-18).]
["12 And again, Esaias saith, There shall be a root of Jesse, and He that shall rise to reign over the Gentiles; in Him shall the Gentiles trust. 21 But as it is written, To whom He was not spoken of, they shall see: and they that have not heard shall understand" (Romans 15:12, 21).]
I Corinthians 15:21-28 and 45-49;
["21 For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But every man in his own order: Christ the Firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at His Coming. 24 Then cometh The End, when He shall have delivered up the Kingdom to God, even the Father; when He shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. 25 For He must reign, till He hath put all enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. 27 For He hath put all things under His feet. But when He saith all things are put under Him, it is manifest that He is excepted, which did put all things under Him. 28 And when all things shall be subdued unto Him, then shall the Son also Himself be subject unto Him that put all things under Him, that God may be All in All. 45 And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the Last Adam was made a Quickening Spirit. 46 Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is Spiritual. 47 The first man is of the Earth, earthy: the Second Man is the LORD from Heaven. 48 As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. 49 And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly" (1Corinthians 15:21-28, 45-49).]
and the epistles to the Ephesians and the Colossians. In the Epistle to the Romans, Adam is the figure of the coming One (5:14).
["Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression, who is the figure of Him that was to come" (Romans 5:14).]
In I Corinthians, He is the
Lord of resurrection life and victory. In the epistles to the Ephesians and
Colossians, He is the representative of the believer in His whole human and
heavenly experience. He stands in his stead, and in His own miraculous birth,
circumcision, baptism, temptation, crucifixion, burial, resurrection, ascension,
session at God's right hand, and coming again, the believer may see, set forth,
his own regeneration, separation unto God, confession of faith, conquest over
Satan, satisfaction of legal penalty, life in the Spirit, exaltation to heavenly
privilege, and inheritance of final glory.
This prepares for the absolute climax of this teaching in Hebrews 2,
where we see Jesus Christ, finally exalted to universal dominion, and, in Him, the redeemed Adamic race once more raised to the throne and scepter. The eighth Psalm
is not to be fulfilled in the first Adam, whose fall wrecked all his prospects of sovereignty, until the second Adam restores the ruins of the first, and gives lost man his true seat at God's right hand.
The Reformed Reader Home Page
Copyright 1999, The Reformed Reader, All Rights Reserved