In the simple, stock opening with which this letter begins, we already gain insight into Paul’s sense of calling and vocation. We see his conception of who he is, and what he knows his task in life to be.
As he turns to the next part of his greeting — again nothing unusual here at all — he expresses his view of who the Colossian Christians are.
τοῖς ἐν Κολοσσαῖς ἁγίοις καὶ πιστοῖς ἀδελφοῖς ἐν Χριστῷ, χάρις ὑμῖν καὶ εἰρήνη ἀπὸ θεοῦ πατρὸς ἡμῶν.
“…to the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.” (NASB).
They are: “saints (who are) in Colossae” and “faithful brothers in Christ.”
ἁγίοις (“holy ones” or “saints“). The New Testament refers to Christian believers as “saints” (ἁγίοι).
At this point English terminology is sometimes confusing, because we have two different roots here. The family of Greek words that express the idea of “holiness” are sometimes translated “holy” “holiness” using the “hol-” root and sometimes “saint” “sanctify” using words derived from the Latin sanctus. So, “holy” is the adjective, but “sanctify” is the verb. It’s a bit confusing. In the Greek language these are closely related, all beginning with the same root: ἅγιος (holy), ἁγιάζω (sanctify), and so forth. I just mention this because the close relationship between these words is generally lost in translation. Sanctify means holy-fy. Holiness and Sanctification are almost synonyms.
So, those to whom Paul writes are identified as being God’s people: saints. They are identified as a people belonging to God. The word “holy” speaks of God’s essential nature. People or things designated as “holy” have a relationship to God. These things/people are devoted to God.
This corresponds to the Old Testament conception of the “chosen people”: those people who are especially related to God, and whose lives are to bring glory and honor to God.
Though Paul writes this letter (we discover as we go along) to correct false teachings in this church, he does not hesitate to call them the “saints that are in Colossae.” This also goes for the other letters Paul writes to troubled or confused congregations. They may be in need to correction in their thinking, but he still dares to call them the “saints.” So, the title “saint” is not necessarily reserved only for the doctrinally correct or even morally perfect Christians. Ordinary, fallible, even sometimes mistaken, Christians are included among the saints. The point here, is that these people have numbered themselves among the people of God.
The faith that brings justification (i.e., initial relationship with God) also brings initial sanctification. Faith holy-fies. Faith sets us on the road of transformation and Christlikeness. Faith makes it possible for our lives to glorify God. By faith we are “in Christ” (ἐν Χριστῷ).
πιστοῖς (“faithful” ). We immediately recognize πιστός as a word related to all the other New Testament words for “faith” or “belief” or “trust.” As such, it could be translated “faithful’ or “believing” — and probably suggests both ideas: they have set out, by faith, to follow Jesus Christ. They are continuing in that faith: obedient and trustworthy. The word implies both “faith” in the sense of personal belief and faithfulness in the sense of actively following after Christ. It is the shame of contemporary evangelicalism that these ideas have been torn asunder. What you believe is what you live by! The New Testament knows no separation between faith and obedience — they are part of the same reality. Faith is the basis of what we do. It is far more than simply what we (sometimes) say.
ἀδελφοῖς (“brother“). Of course, this term assumes that only the men of the church are reading or hearing this letter. That was the cultural reality of the time. The NRSV says “brothers and sisters” because our cultural reality is (thankfully) quite different. Bad translation, I guess. But,on the other hand, it’s a helpful recognition that times have changed. The important thing about this word (the same word, ἀδελφός, used in verse 1 to speak of Timothy) is that it stresses relationship. As a young man (and a new Christian) I was part of a conservative Holiness-influenced congregation where people spoke of one another as “Brother” and “Sister.” I think they were on to something, to tell you the truth. The earliest Christians thought of themselves as belonging to a family together: brothers and sisters in Christ. In Christ (ἐν Χριστῷ) we are related to one another! In Mark 3:35 Jesus says: “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” (NRSV).
In this light, it’s all the more interesting that Paul introduces his companion Timothy as “the brother” (Τιμόθεος ὁ ἀδελφὸς). He needs no other credentials. He could have said leader or preacher or given him some title. But, “brother” is the word he chooses for a recommendation.
To these saints and faithful brothers & sisters in Colossae, Paul pronounces his usual blessing (compare Roams 1:7, 1 Corinthians 1:3, 2 Corinthians 1:2, Galatians 1:3, Ephesians 1:2, Philippians 1:2, 1 Thessalonians 1:1, 2 Thessalonians 1:2, Titus 1:4, Philemon 3). But, for some unknown reason, he leaves off his usual “and the Lord Jesus Christ” phrase.
χάρις ὑμῖν καὶ εἰρήνη ἀπὸ θεοῦ πατρὸς ἡμῶν.
“Grace to you and peace from God our Father.” (NRSV)
χάρις (“grace“). This word speaks of God’s favor and good will toward us. Thus, it refers to everything in our lives that is the result of God’s favor. Thus, also we come to speak of grace as God’s unmerited favor to us in Jesus Christ. At this point the word enters the Church’s own distinctive vocabulary: and becomes a catch-all term for all the good things God wants to communicate to us through Christ. In its root, it signifies “that which brings joy.” It is closely related to the words χαίρω (“to rejoice“) and χαρά (“joy“). Since grace brings joy, it implies that two persons are involved. Someone has something good to give. Someone else is in a position to receive it.
Grace is kindness or mercy given without expectation of return. it is kindness and mercy for its own sake.
A child looks at a bicycle he could never afford. An unknown benefactor buys it for him. It’s grace. Jesus hears two blind men by the side of the road, calling out for mercy (Matthew 20:30f). Jesus touches their eyes and they see (Matthew 20:34). It’s grace. God looks down on the foolish and wayward human race, watching the ways in which we bring pain and suffering into our own lives and the lives of those around us. Yet, instead of anger, God acts our of compassion. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 NASB). It’s grace.
Some people rarely think of grace as “that which brings joy and delight,” but that is an essential part of the meaning of the term. Grace brings delight. God’s will for us is joy and happiness — yes, even in the midst of a sometimes discouraging life. “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.” (John 15:11 NASB).
Long, long ago, I was taught this acrostic: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. While this is no definition of the meaning of the word, as such, it is a good expression of the Christian gospel of grace — and easy to remember, besides.
εἰρήνη (“peace”). We fill in the meaning of this Greek term from the richness of it’s Hebrew equivalent שָׁלוֹם.
It implies harmony and well-being — far more than the cessation of conflict. According to the Hebrew/Aramaic to English Dictionary and Index to the NIV Old Testament from the Zondervan NIV Exhaustive Concordance (Edward W. Goodrick, John R. Kohlenberger III, and James A. Swanson, editors), the word suggests: “peace, safety, prosperity, well-being; intactness, wholeness; peace can have a focus of security, safety which can bring feelings of satisfaction, well-being, and contentment.”
I believe peace is a distinctly Christian state of mind — or possibility. With conflict all around us, we can still be at peace. We have found peace with our Creator and God, the One who is (as Tillich famously said) the ground of our being.
Grace and peace are the essence of the Christian experience.
But true religion, or a heart right toward God and man, implies happiness as well as holiness. For it is not only ‘righteousness,’ but also ‘peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.’ What peace? ‘The peace of God,’ which God only can give, and the world cannot take away; the peace which ‘passeth all understanding,’ all barely rational conception; being a supernatural sensation, a divine taste, of ‘the powers of the world to come;’ such as the natural man knoweth not, how wise soever in the things of this world; nor, indeed, can he know it, in his present state, ‘because it is spiritually discerned.’ It is a peace that banishes all doubt, all painful uncertainty; the Spirit of God bearing witness with the spirit of a Christian, that he is ‘a child of God.’ And it banishes fear, all such fear as hath torment; the fear of the wrath of God; the fear of hell; the fear of the devil; and, in particular, the fear of death: he that hath the peace of God, desiring, if it were the will of God, ‘to depart, and to be with Christ.’
With this peace of God, wherever it is fixed in the soul, there is also ‘joy in the Holy Ghost;’ joy wrought in the heart by the Holy Ghost, by the ever-blessed Spirit of God. He it is that worketh in us that calm, humble rejoicing in God, through Christ Jesus, ‘by whom we have now received the atonement,’ καταλλαγὴν, the reconciliation with God; and that enables us boldly to confirm the truth of the royal Psalmist’s declaration, ‘Blessed is the man’ (or rather, happy) ‘whose unrighteousness is forgiven, and whose sin is covered.’ He it is that inspires the Christian soul with that even, solid joy, which arises from the testimony of the Spirit that he is a child of God; and that gives him to ‘rejoice with joy unspeakable, in hope of the glory of God;’ hope both of the glorious image of God, which is in part and shall be fully ‘revealed in him;’ and of that crown of glory which fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for him.
This holiness and happiness, joined in one, are sometimes styled, in the inspired writings, ‘the kingdom of God,’ (as by our Lord in the text,) and sometimes, ‘the kingdom of heaven.’ It is termed ‘the kingdom of God,’ because it is the immediate fruit of God’s reigning in the soul. So soon as ever he takes unto himself his mighty power, and sets up his throne in our hearts, they are instantly filled with this ‘righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.’ It is called ‘the kingdom of heaven’ because it is (in a degree) heaven opened in the soul.
ἀπὸ θεοῦ πατρὸς ἡμῶν (“from God our Father‘). Here is the true source of all good, all harmony, all peace, all grace, all lasting joy and happiness. In 2 Corinthians 1:3 there is a wonderful phrase, where Paul calls God: ὁ πατὴρ τῶν οἰκτιρμῶν καὶ θεὸς πάσης παρακλήσεως — “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort.” (NIV).