A Brief Exegetical Defense
of another oft-abused passage:
One Anti-Calvinist poster recently commented: "God does not appraoch [sic] a man today and say, 'I'm against you. You are a sinner and I am forced to punish you.'"
This poster was right in one regard. God is not "forced" to do anything. Nevertheless, Paul refers to his ministry as "warning" (Colossians 1:28). Warning of what? The answer is that he is warning of the wrath of God against sin.
Ezekiel 3:18 When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand.
So, the Anti-Calvinist's statement is technically correct (in that those are not God's words), but only because it is too soft. God does not say "I am forced to punish you," he says "you shall surely die!" Or as Jesus put it "Repent!"
But until God gives them ears to hear, they will not hear the warning and be saved:
Jeremiah 6:10 To whom shall I speak, and give warning, that they may hear? behold, their ear is uncircumcised, and they cannot hearken: behold, the word of the LORD is unto them a reproach; they have no delight in it.
But lets look at Colossians 1:20-21 in even more depth:
12Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: 13Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: 14In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins: 15Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: 16For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: 17And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. 18And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. 19For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell; 20And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. 21And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled 22In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: 23If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister; 24Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church: 25Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God; 26Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: 27To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: 28Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus: 29Whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily.
Look at verse 12. It says that the Father "made" us meet to be partakers. Not just that he made us partakers, but that he made us meet for that. If there were conditions, he fulfilled them. That is what it means to make someone "meet" for something. It's a little archaic, but "meet" essentially means something like "fit" or "suitable."
Verse 13 continues by going further and saying that he actually delivered us from darkness and translated us into the kingdom of Jesus.
Verse 14 explains that it is in Jesus that we have redemption through his blood, and that this redemption is the forgiveness of sins.
Verses 15-17 praise Jesus indicating his primacy on account of his role as Creator - both first week creator (ex nihilo creation) and provider-creator (providence).
Verse 18 extends this primacy to the church - the body of all believers. The next verses parallel verses 15-17 in that they explain the basis for his primacy of the church.
Verse 19 begins the explanation by stating that it was the will of the Father. And more specifically, that it was the Father's will that in Christ all the fullness (of the church vs. 18) should dwell.
Verse 20 further expounds on this same will of the Father, namely that this fullness dwelling in Christ is accomplished by Chirst making peace on the cross (reconciliation = peace), thereby reconciling "all things" to himself (all things in heaven or on earth) - that is to say both the church living and to live, as well as the choir invisible.
Verse 21 continues by applying this to the believing Colossians - he tells them that they too - who were enemies having wicked minds and works - were reconciled.
Verse 22 explains how he did it: by bearing their sins in his flesh on the cross, and explains the purpose of his doing so: to present them holy, unblameable, and unreprovable. That is to say, to sanctify and justify them.
Verse 23 mentions that this is the case if they remain upon the foundation of faith in the hope of the gospel. It continues by stating that this is the gospel Paul preached to them.
Verse 24 explains that Paul rejoices in this ministry, because it gives him the chance to share in the sufferings of Christ, suffering for Christ's body - the church.
Verse 25 explains that Paul was given this ministry by God for their benefit "to fulfil the word of God."
Verse 26 indicates that this word of God was a mystery but is now revealed to the saints (those who are set apart by the Spirit):
Verse 27 explains that it is God who makes it know to those whom he chooses ("To whom God would make known"). And explains that what it is that is revealed is revealed even among the Gentiles and is the riches of glory, namely Christ in you, the hope of glory; that is to say, salvation by unity with Christ.
Verse 28 continues the explanation by stating that it is this gospel that Paul preaches to everyone, warning everyone and instructing everyone in wisdom, in an attempt to present everyone perfect in Christ. The "everyone" here, of course, being the church - for no one besides the church is in Christ.
Verse 29 makes this particular to Paul (before he was generalizing about all preachers), and indicates that it is not just him working, but God working in him.
And if you doubt my take on verse 28, just read the next few verses of Colossians:
1For I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you, and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh; 2That their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgement of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ; 3In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4And this I say, lest any man should beguile you with enticing words. 5For though I be absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit, joying and beholding your order, and the stedfastness of your faith in Christ. 6As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him: 7Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving.
May Christ Jesus the Lord, our root and foundation, be magnified!