The letter to the Colossians combines some of the deepest and most sublime teaching about Christ with very basic instruction for life. As strongly as any other book in the New Testament,Colossians reminds us that Christ must always be preeminent in a Christian’s affections and worship. Colosse was located about 120 miles east of Ephesus, in the province of Asia. Paul mentions Epaphras as the one who first brought the Good News to the Colossians. He was probably converted during Paul’s three year ministry in Ephesus. Ephesus was the commercial and governmental center for the whole province, which included Colosse. When Colossians was written, Epaphras was visiting Paul in prison. He had told Paul about some of the difficulties the young church was going through. He was especially concerned about some false teachers in Colosse who were emphasizing the importance of “spiritual rulers and authorities” and “spiritual powers of this world”. These were detracting from the preeminence of Christ.Paul wrote to address these issues. The false teaching could have been from a number of things: false doctrine, an amalgamation or errors, superstitions, or misunderstandings. Elements included taboos about food and holy days, devotion to angelic beings, and a pseudo-sophisticated theology that may have bordered in gnostic heresies. As you read, look for an eloquent passage on the supremacy of Christ, note the basic standards for Christian living and family interactions, and take to heart Paul’s warning about mixing elements from various religious traditions. Here are a couple of themes to watch for. First, a warning against heresy. Paul labeled the Colossians heresy a vain deceit based on human tradition and the basic traditions of the world. It denied Christ’s sufficiency and belittles Christian hope in His finished work on the cross. Second, the supremacy of Christ. Paul affirmed that: Christ is God, He is the creator of all things, all the fullness of God dwell as in Him, Christ is superior to the angels, Christ is the head of the church, through Him believers have fullness, in Christ all the requirements of the law have been met, asceticism has no value, a life hidden in Christ brings glory, Christ Himself is the “mystery of God”, and there is no other secret knowledge necessary. Third, Christian living. Paul insisted that the believers union with Christ trusts in holy living. He outlined clear standards that prescribe attitudes that are to govern relationships within family and church. Leadership is to be exercised, but domination is unacceptable.
The opening section of Colossians begins with a thanksgiving, typical of New Testament letters. Paul gives thanks for the Colossians progress in the faith and prays that they might understand it even better. With this prayer, Paul hints at his concern about the influence of false teachers. In the New Testament all Christians are Saints, people who have been specifically set apart by God as His own holy people. The Colossians confident hope gives them a secure foundation for their faith and love. What God has reserved for believers had not yet been fully revealed, but it already exists in heaven. TheGood News is effective to change lives and bring about spiritual growth. Epaphras was probably converted when Paul ministered in Ephesus and then he brought the Good News back to his hometown. Paul prayed that God would grant his readers deeper understanding of the Good News and its full expression in their lives. Spiritual growth yields a clearer and deeper comprehension of Christian truth and conduct that pleases the Lord, through which a believer will have the endurance and patience to stand firm against evil. Paul not only prays for the Colossians but he encourages them to pray . Humble gratitude to God for salvation is a powerful antidote to the lure of false teaching. And the inheritance that Paul speaks of is that which God has promised His people. In the New Testament the inheritance consists of salvation and final deliverance.
Paul presented Jesus as the supreme creator and redeemer. The series of short statements, the exalted conceptions of Christ, and the parallelism in language and thought strongly suggest that these verses quote an early Christian hymn about Jesus that Paulapplied to the situation of the Colossians Christians. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, called the Septuagint, the word for image refers to humans who have been created in the image of God. They also use the word to refer to wisdom. New Testament writers speak about Christ as God’s wisdom to help explain His significance. Paul explained that Jesus Christ existed before anything was ever created and that He reigns supreme over all creation. That is why he could stand up in a storm tossed boat on The Sea of Galilee, speak be still, and the sea went completely calm. Jesus is the master of creation and even the wind and the waves obey His voice. When Paul says Jesus was the first born he is not saying Jesus was created. It is a title, drawn from the Old Testament that indicates superiority of rank and priority in time. Continuing on Paul reminds the Colossians that Jesus made everything; both the things we can see and those we can’t. Here Paul is referring to thrones, kingdoms, rulers , and authorities in the unseen world. This probably refers to various spiritual powers. What Paul is doing here is saying that Jesus has supreme power over those beings that were getting way too much attention from the false teachers. Not only is Jesus the creator of everything, that is everything was created through Him, but Jesus is also the goal of creation. The Greek word for head usually had the connotation of a sense of authority. And the metaphor of the church as Christ’s body expresses the essential unity of Christ and the church. Jesus is the firstborn from the dead. Jesus raised a handful of people back to life during His earthly ministry but they all died again. Jesus died and was raised from the dead to eternal life. When Paul spoke of God in all His fulness he was emphasizing that God had chosen to reveal Himself fully in Jesus Christ. So, when we see Jesus and understand Him, we are also seeing God the Father and understanding Him. But the false teachers were indicating that if people wanted to truly know God they needed to look towards other spiritual beings. Paul reminded the Colossians that Christ is way past sufficient for all our knowledge of God. And it is through Christ that God has reconciled everything to Himself. As people who have been reconciled to God, the Colossians enjoyed a new spiritual status. But that also meant they needed to stand firm in the truth they had been taught. These Colossians, many of whom had been Gentiles were reminded that at one time they had been very far away from God, but because of Jesus Christ and their belief in Him they were now holy and blameless in His sight. Paul finished out the first chapter by considering his role in the spreading of the Good News. He told the Colossians that even though the redemptive suffering of Christ is unique and totally finished, He still suffers through His people in the world, like Paul because the world is hostile to believers. Just like today. This will continue until Christ returns in glory.
Paul spoke of a secret, hidden at one time and then revealed. Jewish thinkers conceived of God’s entire plan as already existing in heaven until God draws back a curtain and reveals His plan. The Good News, especially for the Gentiles had been kept secret until it was revealed in Jesus Christ. Christ Himselfpersonifies this mysterious plan. Verses 6-15 contain Paul’s exhortations about standing steadfast in the face of the false teachers. He encouraged the Colossians to keep putting their roots down deeper and deeper into Jesus Christ. At first glance it might seem that Paul is condemning philosophy but he only condemns empty philosophy that stands over and against the Good News. In interesting language Paul announced that when the Gentiles came to Jesus they were circumcised spiritually in Christ. What Jesus cut away was their sinful nature instead of flesh. He also reminded the Colossians that Believers were buried with Christ when we were baptized. Paul taught that in God’s sight we really were with Christ when He was buried and raised, so we experience the benefits of what Christ did for us. Paul can link that identification with Christ to baptism because water baptism was so closely related to conversion in the early church. And in another picture Paul spoke of the record of charges against us. The Greek suggests an IOU that each of us has signed. Since we are unable to pay what we owe it stands against us. The law of God required obedience that people are unable to give. But God has forgiven our debt through the work of Christ on the cross.
Verses 16-23 find Paul pushing back against the false teachersand their demands. He taught that these folks teaching came from human teachings and had no basis in Christ. There were religious teachings that prohibited certain kinds of food and drink. And he focused for a bit on religious feasts and holy days. Paul maintained that it was wrong for anyone to insist on a sabbath observance as a necessary expression of Christian piety. The people of the first century were fascinated with spiritual beings. Some Jews believed that angels were present during their times of worship, and some might even have worshiped the angels. The false teachers were saying they had, had visions that established certain rituals as requirements for the community. Again Paul states this is not valid or right, or from Christ. With His victory on the cross Christ over became any spiritual power. These “rules” of the false teachers were of no help in conquering a persons evil desires.
Chapter three is all about living the new life in Jesus Christ. He begins by reminding the Colossians that even though they live on earth they have been raised with Christ and their true home is in heaven with Him. The false teachers focused on things of the earth, where the prince of darkness reigns. When people come to Christ everything changes. We know more awaits us but we cannot see it at this time. But the day will come when what is hidden will be revealed. For now we walk by faith, not by sight. The false teachers believed and taught the opposite. Everything will change when Christ comes in all His glory. We put to death our old sinful life but Paul warns that the anger of the Lord is coming. And Paul lists a number of things to take off or get rid of out of our lives. All of these things interfere with our walk with the Lord. He contrasts the old and new; the old sinful nature and the new life in Christ. Believers strip off their old life and put on Christ’s new life, allowing him to be Lord and to guide the way they live. Greeks mocked people from other cultures and nations because they didn’t speak Greek well, claiming they could only speak bar-bar. This is where the word barbarian comes from.
Paul also describes the nature of the new life of people who have been raised with Christ. Their virtues and activities contribute to the peace and strength of the community. Just as Christ is one, so there can only be one body of Christ. Allegiance to Himneeds to transcend differences so that all believers can live in peace. Paul urges the Colossians to sing, praise and worship the Lord…together. Being a representative of the Lord means that one acts like the one they are representing. So, if we are representing Jesus then we need to act like Jesus would. Paulfinished out the chapter with similar instruction regarding the relationships between husband and wife, parents and children, and slaves and masters. To submit is to recognize ones place in the social order but this sort of submission always implies that God is at the top and His will is paramount.
Paul calls believers to devote themselves to prayer, and top pray with an alert mind. This means praying and being watchful for Christ’s return. He asks for prayers that God will open doors so that more people will hear the Good News. Paul’s dedication to preaching the Good News is forever getting him in trouble with all sorts of people but Paul is glad to be able to continue preaching the Good News. He calls believers to make the most of every opportunity they are given to share Jesus with people. Like people who buy up a product offered at a good price, Christians are to buy up every opportunity to share the Good News. Conversations are to be attractive and gracious. The Greek here can be translated literally as conversations seasoned with salt. This is encouragement to speak with well chosen words and words that also winsome. Rabbis occasionally referred to wisdom as salt, so Paul might also be exhorting Christians to speak wisely.
Paul ends with a very long section of greetings here. Perhaps it is because Paul is unable to travel and he wants to make sure that the Colossians are well connected to his coworkers. This would help keep them safe from the false teachers. Tychicus probably carried the letter to the Colossians as well as the ones to Ephesus and Philemon. Onesimus was the run away slave Paul was sending back to his master Philemon. We also encounter Aristarchus, Barnabas, Mark, Epaphras, and Luke. Epaphras prayed hard for the Colossians as well as those believers in Laodicea and Hierapolis. This probably means he was the pioneering evangelist for all three communities. Nothing is known about Nympha except there was a house church that met in her house. Like most ancient letters, Colossians was probably dictated by Paul to a scribe who would have been trained to write neatly and compactly. As a way of making this letter authentic, Paul added his own handwritten greeting at the very end.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W