Lectionary Commentaries for July 21, 2019
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Luke 10:38-42

Brian Peterson

I am not a skilled chef by any stretch of the imagination.

However, when the family gathers for holidays at our home, I often end up assuming the role of meal-planner and cook. Perhaps that is simply because around those Easter, Christmas, and Thanksgiving holidays my academic schedule tends to have a break, unlike my wife’s pastoral schedule. I don’t mind being busy in the kitchen. I can hear the kids and the grandkids in the next room (at least, some of the time). I can interject now and then. There is food to prepare, and dishes to get out of the way afterward. That work is one way my love expresses itself.

Yet, I know I’m missing some important things happening in the next room. Even if that scenario doesn’t sound familiar to everyone, I suspect that most people frequently experience vocations that seem at times to be in conflict: the joys and responsibilities of being someone’s child, and someone’s spouse, and someone’s parent, and someone’s grandparent, often at the same time.

So, let’s not be overly-critical of Martha. By all means, let’s not make her into a caricature: a cartoon woman overly concerned with silly womanly things. Jesus, earlier in Luke 10, sent out 70 disciples and told them to expect and accept hospitality from others. Isn’t Martha precisely the sort of host that Jesus had promised? Later in the Gospel, when those closest to him begin to argue about which one of them is the greatest, Jesus will define “great” discipleship and even his own ministry in terms of serving others (Luke 22:24-26), using the same vocabulary that here describes Martha. We ought to be careful about how we portray Martha as we preach from this text. There is nothing inherently wrong with attending to her tasks. Indeed, they are an image of discipleship.

We don’t need to reject Martha in order to understand Luke’s point about Mary, who is portrayed as a disciple sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening to him. She violates the cultural expectations in ways that Martha does not. This is the sort of thing that Jesus does, breaking the cultural constraints and setting people free for the kingdom. That’s necessary if we are actually going to love our neighbors and love God. It has happened (and must continue to happen) in the face of slavery, and racism, and sexism, and homophobia. The church needs to be set free for such faithful listening and discipled violation of cultural assumptions so that we can love the strangers and sojourners among us, so that we can love our Muslim and Hindu and atheist neighbors, so that we can sit at the feet of Jesus and hear what he has to say to us.

If we are overly critical of Martha, we may end up with an image of faith that never actually does anything for anyone else. As many commentaries mention, the preceding story of the Good Samaritan (the previous Sunday’s reading in the Revised Common Lectionary) and this text need to be understood together. The Samaritan embodies love for the neighbor; Mary embodies love for God. Both the Samaritan and Mary are socially disqualified from being models of anything good according to the norms of their culture, and yet they are both images of the kingdom which Jesus brings. Both are needed to complete the discipleship Jesus calls for: to hear God’s word and to do it (Luke 8:21). We need the “go and do likewise” of Luke 10:37, and we need to remember that sitting as a disciple to hear the word of Jesus is a gift not to be neglected or taken away.

We don’t need to reduce Martha to a silly, distracted woman to grasp the text’s affirmation of Mary. So, how do we understand Martha’s actions, and the gentle rebuke that Jesus gives her? We could suggest that she seems to be trying to make her own way of serving necessary for someone else, and that’s always a temptation we face. When we do so, we reject the gifts and the calling that God has given to others, and assume that God’s grace is simple rather than the actual richness of the Spirit’s work.

Or we might say that Martha allows social assumptions to take precedence over the urgency of the kingdom that is sitting right in front of her. Even here, though, we ought to realize the ways in which Martha herself is breaking social conventions and making room for the kingdom. It is into her house that Jesus is welcomed. This is the only story in which Martha or Mary appear in Luke, and there is no brother Lazarus mentioned here as he is in John’s Gospel. Martha seems to be the owner and head of this household, and welcomes Jesus as his host without the typical paterfamilias oversight. If we want to say anything about the problem with Martha’s actions, it might be best to say that Martha only sees that she needs to provide for Jesus, when in fact it is Jesus who is providing the one thing needed — indeed, who IS the one thing needed. Martha fails to recognize how Jesus is the host wherever he is.

It is difficult to move from the role of provider to being someone who receives a gift from the other. That often leaves us feeling too vulnerable, too little in control. And, after all, holiday meals need to be prepared and dishes need to be washed. But to receive the gift of a child’s presence, a grandchild’s hopeful invitation to put down the tasks and to play, is far more needed, and never to be taken away. Jesus comes to turn us from important but secondary things, and as the gracious and loving host to turn us to himself. There is no question here of “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25). The “better part,” which will not be taken from us, comes as a gift.

First Reading

Commentary on Genesis 18:1-10a

Valerie Bridgeman

The Abraham/Sarah cycle in the First Testament is full of odd stories.

And, except that it is Sunday-school familiar to many Christians, this particular story in the cycle is especially odd. It’s not odd because three “men” show up “out of nowhere” and need hospitality. It’s the kind of oddity where the deity circles back on a promise made many years before and many times over. Except now, Abraham is old, and presumably feeble. Why should they believe God this time? This question might be a very good preaching starter for anyone wanting to preach this text. I know it’s not the obvious question, but if proclaimers remind listeners of the saga by putting this passage in context, there are so many possibilities.

For example, Abram has heard this promise and it made him leave his father’s house and to venture out to a god he did not know and for — if we were not believers and numbed to the adventure — sound like grandiose and fantastical promises.  In the larger narrative, there are missteps and efforts to help God along the way to keep the promise of progeny, land, and legacy. All for the want of the promise, for want of a son. Again in Genesis 15, Abram has another vision where God reminds him of the promise of progeny, land, and legacy. This time, Abraham pushes back: “But Abram said, ‘O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?’ And Abram said, ‘You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir” (Genesis 15:2-3). But God insists on the original promise. Not Eliezer, but a son of Abraham’s loins and Sarah’s womb. Vision is followed by vision in that chapter. If you read them closely, my hunch is that you will think them strange, what with passing between pieces of ritually slaughtered animals, terror, smoking pots, and flaming torches, and more promised. If we don’t think them strange or odd, it is only because we have gotten accustomed to the strangeness. Despite this vision, this reminder, Abraham fathers Ishmael by forcing Hagar into slaver surrogacy in Genesis 17.  But God says, (my words) “Not the one, sir. I said a son with Sarah.” If one follows this story line, they would be concerned about whether God is going to come through, just as Abram/Abraham was.

Preaching this text means helping listeners have a sense of this strangeness and long-suffering waiting for such a promise. It would explain a lot about Sarah’s laughter and Abraham’s skepticism. Over the years we’ve cleaned it up with our storybook version of what happened, but by the time three men show up in the desert, and Abraham (and the other men in this household) are presumably weak after recovering from circumcision, the meal is the preparation for the line in verse 10: “I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.” What are a feeble, tired, hot, now-99-year-old man and his wife expected to believe? I also believe preachers ought to expand the passage to include verses 10b-16. That way, we would have the added benefit of Sarah’s reactions in the text, and can further explore the long awaited fulfillment, questions about faithfulness in the wait, and how to hold on to a “word from God” when all evidence to it being possible diminish with every passing day. I invite preachers to really explore that faith.

If preachers think my first suggestion is too much work, there are two others that seem possible. One option is to explore the idea of “entertaining angels unawares.” I would caution preachers that nowhere in the text are the three men called angels. But, as I have called this story odd, that oddity is between verses one and two. “The Lord” appeared (singular) to Abraham and “he looked up and saw three men standing near him.” Are “the Lord” and the three the same? Through interpretation history, some have used this text to preach a trinitarian message. They’ve followed Augustine’s lead, especially, in his book writings “On the Trinity: Book II,” where he writes:

Yet Scripture at the beginning of that narrative does not say, three men appeared to him, but, The Lord appeared to him. And then, setting forth in due order after what manner the Lord appeared to him, it has added the account of the three men, whom Abraham invites to his hospitality in the plural number, and afterwards speaks to them in the singular number as one; and as one He promises him a son by Sara, viz. the one whom the Scripture calls Lord, as in the beginning of the same narrative, The Lord, it says, appeared to Abraham. He invites them then, and washes their feet, and leads them forth at their departure, as though they were men; but he speaks as with the Lord God, whether when a son is promised to him, or when the destruction is shown to him that was impending over Sodom.1

There have been art and icons since medieval times to depict this text as the trinity. But this reading feels like a stretch, except for preachers to use the text to point out the way the church through the years have worked to talk about the mystery of God. That conversation could be here. How does Abraham know the one who “appeared” to him is the Lord? What are the ways we identify and understand out encounters with the Holy and the Holy One? How do we respond to those encounters? Which brings me to option three.

The final option I would offer to preachers is to consider the level of hospitality Abraham offers these visitors. While it is true that he perceives God is there — and maybe that affects his offering — he goes all out to provide customary care in the desert, and maybe extraordinary care. He runs to greet them and bows in honor (verse 2). He offers water to drink and to wash their feet. He offers rest from the heat of the sun, “under the tree,” verse 5. Basic care is what Abraham offers, but what he provides us much more. It reads like the feast for a long lost relative or friend, or better yet, a dignitary: cakes, a tender, calf, curds and milk.

Christians may here that Luke 15 describes such a feast when the prodigal son returned. Here, I am not calling for preachers to interject Jesus into the story, but the quote suggests that if we greet people as if they were “of the same substance” as God, a claim Christians make every time we say people are made in God’s image, then Abraham’s response might be ours. Preachers might explore what expansive and generous hospitality looks like for believers. It would stand in contrast to the stories about Sodom and Gomorrah to follow.

This odd story might yield an abundance of grace.


  1. Saint Augustine. On the Trinity: Book II. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/130102.htm.

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on Amos 8:1-12

Courtney Pace

Amos was the earliest of the prophetic books, focused on the ultimate consequences of Israel’s disobedience.

Its powerful language, its focus on the destructive capabilities of God, and its concern for systemic social justice issues offered a turning point in prophetic proclamation in its time, during the reigns of Judean king Uzziah (783-742 BCE) and Israel’s king Jeroboam II (785-745 BCE). Both nations seem to be in a time of relative peace, seeking to enlarge their territories.

Amos focuses generally on the sovereignty of God, but specifically on God’s sovereignty over nature and ability to use nature destructively toward the people of Israel. No other biblical book emphasizes the destructiveness of God as much as Amos. Though God established covenant relationship with Israel, their repeated unjust behavior has prompted God to end the relationship, compelled to do something new.

Amos 8:1-3 offers the fourth vision reported in Amos, appearing in the same format as the third vision (7:7-9). Beholding a bowl of summer fruit — typically high in water content, sweet, and refreshing — God says to Amos that the end is coming after which God will not pass by the people of Israel again; they will weep in the temple, with corpses strewn and scattered. The Hebrew word qes here can mean “summer” or “ripe fruit harvested at the end of summer.” God’s response to Amos uses this same word, in a word play turn of phrase: “the time is ripe” for God to cut off. Elsewhere in the text, qes is used eschatologically, but here it certainly refers to the end of a people, making 8:2b perhaps the most extreme statement in the entire book of Amos.

If you find yourself squeamish upon reading to this point, you are exhibiting a normal human reaction of resisting acknowledgment of death and destruction, especially any concerning ourselves. The reality in which Amos found himself was sufficiently devastated that all he can see for the future is death.

The people of Israel, Amos accused, have created a system which perpetuates injustice. Not only is their worship inauthentic, but they have oriented everything about themselves to how they can exploit one another for monetary gain. The wealthy have objectified the poor, trading them as commodities. Makers add rubbish to their wares, peddling it as quality. Even religious holidays have become central days of exploitation and anticipation of future exploitation. The language of 8:6 reminded me of the level of desperation depicted by “Master of the House” from Les Miserables, in which the inn owners repeatedly defrauded, robbed, and exploited their guests for monetary gain.

The level of injustice described here far exceeds individual acts of bigotry. Certainly individuals acted with bigotry and hatred toward others. More than this, however, the system was set up to perpetuate the power of those already in power, to perpetuate the wealth of those already wealthy, and to do both at the expense of the poor and powerless. Owners of the means of production used hiring and compensation practices which guaranteed the exponentially increasing impoverishment of laborers, effectively forcing them into enslavement. Because of this impoverishment and disenfranchisement, the poor exploited the poor, and the entire society was organized according to domination rather than love for neighbor, as God intended. Amos doesn’t specify the wealthy as the oppressors, but rather the oppressor is anyone who practices injustice.

God knows what Israel has done, for no deed done in the dark can go unnoticed by God. Religion cannot assure them that everything will be alright when it will not. Religion can offer no comfort to these people, for the just response of religion is their judgment. Amos utilizes liturgical formats typically offering assurance of God’s pardon, now turned on their heads to assure God’s judgment and inability to forgive their evil.

Israel may have found God’s word easy to ignore leading up to Amos’s proclamation, but now, God will withhold God’s word from them. They will struggle without meaning or purpose until their ultimate destruction. They will pine for a word from God and find only deeper, meaningless suffering.

God is the sovereign creator of the world and called Israel as a covenant community of God. God cares about the oppressed, the poor, and the exploited, which Israel did not honor in their systemic perpetuation of injustice against each other. God is as if not more concerned about systemic justice as individual piety. Personal morality cannot exonerate someone from complicity with an unjust system.

This text raises a critical identity question for the church today: What are we doing with the word God has given to us? When we cast our cares on buildings, programs, and social status, we squander and ignore the word of God revealed in the biblical text and freshly revealed to us through Christian discipleship. When we fail to love our neighbor as ourselves, when deny shelter to the refugee, when we judge the oppressed for their oppression, when we disregard the one because we are content with the ninety-nine, we have violated God with our evil. When we are complicit with evil regimes that rend children from their parents, delight in the destruction of others, and use people as means to build wealth and power, we have violated God with our evil.

No weekly frequency of quiet times, dollar amounts donated to good causes, kind letters to missionaries, seeming propriety, or any other “good church behavior” can exonerate us from God’s judgment on us for perpetuating injustice. The people of God were called to participate in God’s project of love for the world, but instead of loving each other, they brutalized one another.

God’s call to the church is to be the hands and feet of God in the world, offering love, working for each other’s good. Such a calling is incompatible with systemic injustice, which compels the people of God to actively combat oppressive systems like racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, ageism, ableism, etc. Though churches in crisis claim that they seek God’s word for them, their focus too often remains on externals, rooted in love of self and the unquenchable thirst for “enough” power/domination/gain.

As Donald Gowan wrote, “If we ignore the word God has set before us, what more can God do for us?”1

Though the people fail God, God is never failing. God will create something new out of the death of the chosen people, God says to Amos. Do not rush to find resurrection and miss this opportunity to dwell on the truth of God’s justice. Who are we crushing? Who are we enslaving? Upon whose graves are we building our towers? When we seek God’s voice, what idols have deafened us from truly hearing God?



1 Donald Gowan, “Amos,” in The New Interpreter’s Bible v. 7, edited by Michael Lawrence, pp.337-432 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996): 419.


Aaron, Jr., Charles L. Preaching Hosea, Amos, and Micah (St. Louis, Chalice Press, 2005).

Carroll R., Mark Daniel. Contexts for Amos: Prophetic Poetics in Latin American Perspective (Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 1992).

Gowan, Donald, “Amos,” in The New Interpreter’s Bible v. 7, edited by Michael Lawrence, pp.337-432 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996).


Commentary on Psalm 15

Jerome Creach

The subject of Psalm 15 is the question, what is expected of a person who comes into the presence of God?

Many scholars believe the psalm was inspired by and patterned after liturgies performed at the gates of the temple wherein a gatekeeper stated qualifications for entry. According to this theory, such ceremonies expressed expectations of ritual purity or requirements for sacrificial offerings (Deuteronomy 23:2-9; 2 Chronicles 23:19).1 Psalm 15 is closer in character, however, to Isaiah 33:13-16 which gives instruction in the type of character God demands (see also Micah 6:6-8).2 Psalm 24:3-6 is another example of such instruction.

The psalm opens with two questions about what God expects of the worshipper. They both present the idea of being in God’s presence in terms of living temporarily (gur, “sojourn;” “dwell”) and abiding or dwelling (shakan; verse 1). These words are metaphors for spending time in the place of worship and do not refer to living there in a literal sense (compare Psalm 23:6; 27:4). Nevertheless, the image of dwelling in the holy place may be inspired by the practice of priests (1 Samuel 3) and Levites (Deuteronomy 18:6-8; 1 Chronicles 16:37-42) who made their home at the central sanctuary while in service there.

The specific points of conduct in verses 2-5 describe a right orientation to God in terms of right actions towards the neighbor. The first two statements in verse 2 (“walk blamelessly,” “do what is right”) describe exterior acts of right action. The word “blameless” translates a Hebrew term that is sometimes rendered “with integrity.” The same term describes the character of Job (Job 1:1; see also Proverbs 2:7). “Blameless” refers to a type of life that is consistent and complete, in every way in line with God’s intentions. The second statement, “does what is right” is similar to and qualifies the first. The idea is that God established the world with righteousness, and the righteous person participates in God’s maintenance of the world by means of right actions (Psalm 97:2).

The final description in verse 2 (“speak the truth from their heart”), however, makes clear that the right actions the psalmist has in mind do not amount to rote adherence to a legal standard. Rather, they grow out of the meditations of the heart. In other words, the person Psalm 15 describes is like the person portrayed in the first psalm, one whose “delight is in the law of the lord” and who “meditates” on the law, day and night (Psalm 1:2).

The behaviors of the righteous listed in Psalm 15 are illustrative, but they nevertheless give insight into the orientation of the psalm towards right action. The acts that are named all have in common a concern for the well-being of the community on various levels. The righteous person does not slander or participate in such destructive activity toward those close to him or her (verse 3).

On a wider scale, the righteous person despises the wicked, but “honors” those who “fear the lord” (verse 4a). The term translated “wicked” is not the term the Psalms typically use for those who oppose God. Rather, it is a word that might be woodenly translated “one who is rejected or despised” (nim?as). The word highlights the fact that “the wicked” perform actions that should be rejected. In Psalm 15:4 the term appears in contrast with “those who fear the lord.” The righteous person stands outside the influence of the wicked, those who act in ways that bring divine rejection, but stands with and under the influence of those who submit to God’s rule (see Psalm 1:1).

The final description of right action in Psalm 15 includes the word for monetary currency (verse 5; kesep; “silver”). Both parts of the verse focus on the proper use of money. The righteous “do not lend money at interest” and “do not take a bribe against the innocent.” The world that gave rise to this sketch of the righteous was agrarian, and money was not a part of daily human interaction. Money was rare, as was the necessity of borrowing money.

Those who sought to borrow money were typically in desperate circumstances and could be easily abused. For that reason, those who loaned money were to think of themselves as giving assistance to the needy (Exodus 22:24; Leviticus 25:36; Deuteronomy 23:20). Thus, those who loaned at interest were predators. They took advantage of the misfortune of those seeking a loan to enrich themselves, sometimes sending the unfortunate borrower into slavery to pay the debt.

Seen in this light, this first description of the righteous’ economic practice is similar in severity to the second: they “do not take a bribe against the innocent.” This final description is general, and the implications of taking a bribe are not spelled out. Deuteronomy 27:25 uses similar language, however, to link taking a bribe with “shedding innocent blood.” This passage may have in mind a judge who takes money in exchange for a guilty verdict on one who killed another by accident, thus permitting a kinsman (an “avenger of blood”) to seek revenge (see Deuteronomy 19:10).3

Whatever the description in Psalm 15:5 has in mind specifically, it seems from these other references that it is likely a matter of life and death. The one who takes a bribe has no concern for community health, but only for economic advancement. The righteous are not so. They are in accord with the righteousness of God that ensures the health and well-being of the whole society. They are like the earth that God made secure in creation (Psalm 93:1). Thus, as a result of their right actions toward others, Psalm 15 declares, they “shall never be moved” (verse 5).


  1. See Erhard S. Gerstenberger, Psalms, Part I with an Introduction to Cutlic Poetry (Forms of Old Testament Literature; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1988), 88.
  2. James L. Mays, Psalms (Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching; Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994), 85.
  3. Richard D. Nelson, Deuteronomy: A Commentary (Old Testament Library; Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), 321.

Second Reading

Commentary on Colossians 1:15-28

Lois Malcolm

The second in a four-part series on Colossians, this text sets forth its core theological convictions — not as an argument, but as a pedagogy in which readers can participate.1

The writer’s use of pronouns will serve as our guide for tracing the flow in this passage. It starts with an extended hymn that extols the Messiah as God’s Wisdom — in the third person (Colossians 1:15-20). Then, it narrates how “you” (the readers) have moved from a place of estrangement to one of reconciliation (Colossians 1:21-23a). It concludes with the writer — who identifies himself as “I, Paul, a servant of the gospel” — stating why wrote the letter: to bolster trust in the very mystery of God: “the Messiah in you” (Colossians 1:23b-28).

A hymn extolling the Messiah as God’s Wisdom

The hymn in this passage is replete with imagery related to the personified figure of Wisdom (Colossians 1:15-17). In this, it echoes Paul’s undisputed letters, where we already find an appropriation of existing Jewish traditions that had associated the Messiah with God’s pre-existent Wisdom in all of creation.

It begins by extoling God’s “beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13) as the “image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). This reiterates not only Paul’s reference to the Messiah as the “image of God” (2 Corinthians 3:18; 4:4), but also Jewish wisdom literature’s portrayal of Wisdom as the “image of God’s goodness” (Wisdom 7:26). Likewise, it speaks of the “firstborn of creation” (Colossians 1:15), recalling not only Romans 8:29, but also biblical depictions of Wisdom at the beginning of creation (Proverbs 8:22-26; Sirach 24:9). Finally, its praise of the one “through whom” and “for whom” all things have been created (Colossians 1:16) — who is “before all things” and “in whom all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17) — evokes Paul’s letters (2 Corinthians 8:6; Romans 11:36) and Jewish portrayals of Wisdom’s active role in creation throughout all time and eternity (Sirach 1:4; 24:1-6; Proverbs 8:27-30).

As God’s Wisdom, the Messiah encompasses all of reality — from the dualisms we use to structure our thinking, such as the dichotomy between “things seen or unseen,” to the cosmic and political “thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities” we often assume control the world (Colossians 1:16; see also Colossians 2:10).

The middle part of the hymn speaks of “the head of the body, the church” (Colossians 1:18). Drawing on the depiction of the “body of the Messiah” in 1 Corinthians 12, the emphasis here is on the Messiah as head of this body, its “beginning” (arche, see Genesis 1:1), which has “first place in everything” (Colossians 1:18). If the hymn had earlier referred to the “firstborn of all creation,” then here — in a reference to the resurrection — it speaks of the “firstborn from the dead,” echoing the portrayal of the Second Adam as the “life-creating spirit” in 1 Corinthians (Colossians 15:45).

Finally, the hymn praises the one in whom “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1:19). Later, the writer will refer even more explicitly to the one in whom “the entire fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Colossians 2:9). Such “fullness” is embodied in the way God reconciles all things through the Messiah, making cosmic peace — “whether on earth or in heaven” — through the very tangible “blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:20; see also 2 Corinthians 5:9; Ephesians 2:12-22).

You, who were estranged, are now reconciled

Reconciliation is at the center of a shift that has already taken place among this letter’s readers: “You who were once alienated” — that is, estranged from God and others, trapped in hostile and hateful ways of thinking, doing harmful and evil things to one another — have now been “reconciled” in the Messiah’s “fleshy body through death” (Colossians 1:22a). Having reconciled you in his “fleshy body,” the Messiah will now present you “holy, without blemish, and above reproach” (Colossians 1:22b) — as in, the liturgical act of “presenting” a sacrifice or offering (see Romans 12:1).

The writer reminds his readers that you have already “heard” about this hope, which is hope the gospel proclaims “to every creature” (Colossians 1:23b).  Nonetheless, he admonishes that if you want to enact and appropriate this hope — that is, actually shift from a place of estrangement to one of reconciliation within your lived experience — then you must persist, “firmly established and resolute,” in faith (Colossians 1:23a).

I, Paul, a servant in God’s economy

The writer now shifts to the first person: “I, Paul, became a servant of this gospel.” He boldly claims that he not only shares in the “sufferings of the Messiah” (see 2 Corinthians 1:5-7), but also, in fact, “fills up” — in his “flesh” — “what is lacking in the Messiah’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Colossians 1:24). 

In line with divine arrangement (oikonomia), God has given him the task of making “the “word of God fully known.” Hidden through the ages and generations, this “word” is the “mystery” God has now disclosed to the saints (Colossians 1:26), the “hope of glory” the gospel proclaims to everyone (Colossians 1:27)

This mystery is nothing other than “the Messiah in you” (Colossians 1:27). Unlike mysteries about empirical facts that simply refer to things we are not aware of yet, divine mystery continues to be a mystery even when disclosed. Thus, admonishing and teaching everyone “in all wisdom” entails deepening and expanding their sense of this mystery so that they can be presented ever more fully mature “in the Messiah” (Colossians 1:28). 

Empowered by God’s own energetic activity, the writer labors and struggles with all his energy to console and hold together hearts in love, so that they may enter more fully into the wealth of assurance and knowledge of this divine mystery — the Messiah himself, in whom “are hidden all treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:2-3).

Countering anyone who might “delude you with persuasive speech” (Colossians 2:4), he seeks to buttress “your trust in the Messiah” and the patterns and structures that support that trust (Colossians 2:5).


  1. See my commentary on Colossians 1:1-14 (7/14/2019) for a brief introduction to the series. As noted there, scholars disagree on whether Colossians was written by the Apostle Paul or someone influenced by him.