Introduction to Paul’s Letter to the church at Colossae

You can listen to this sermon here.

He (Christ Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. This is the thesis statement, the core truth of Paul’s letter to the Colossians. A study of this epistle will reveal Jesus as the answer to life. 

Nearly every New Testament letter from Paul was written to combat heresy in one or more local churches; Ephesians is the exception. While Colossians doesn’t specify what heresy had infected that church, one can almost hear the whispers, “Jesus is not enough.” Many think an early form of Gnosticism was emerging. What makes this epistle so vital for life in the church in this age, until Christ returns, is the glorious picture of our Lord Jesus is painted in words by the apostle. It is instructive for us to see the evil distractions from the gospel the enemy put into the church in Paul’s day, but it is essential for life and godliness that we grasp the gospel and the person of Christ as held forth in Scripture. In this short letter, the lord Jesus is presented as our life – quite a contrast to our drab routine; something that ought to bring renewed life to weary saints.

This introduction follows the commentary by John Kitchens and covers 5 questions we should answer:

  1. Who wrote this letter?
  2. To whom was it written?
  3. What were the circumstances?
  4. Why did Paul write it?
  5. What does this letter teach us?
  6. This first topic is important but not vital. We who believe in the inspiration of Scripture know the dual-authorship of the Bible and know God is the Author of what His people wrote. Yet knowing the human author helps us when we can learn about him through other passages. This is particularly helpful in rightly understanding Proverbs, for example.

Nobody questioned Paul’s authorship of this epistle until a few 19th century scholars offered up an alternative. The first two verses seem pretty clear to us: Colossians 1:1-2 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timotheus our brother, To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colosse: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. But some smart people, as men see them, said the vocabulary, theology, and style of writing is too different from Paul’s other letters; that Paul works against Gnosticism which was not fully developed until the 2nd century. None of these objections stand up in light of a basic understanding of the Bible. Liberals seem to have it as their goal to cause us to doubt the Word of God.

  1. Written to the saints in Colossae, a town that had been prominent but was now bypassed by the major highway that had driven its commerce; not unlike Gowen or Hartshorne – both of which were prosperous in the mid-20th century as goal mining and defense electronics provided a large bounty of gainful employment. The region Colossae is in was also severely affected by an earthquake, and commerce went with the new highway to Laodicea and Hierapolis. We see in 2:1 that, at the time of this epistle, Paul had not been to Colossae or Laodicea: For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face. What kindness of God, to have this apostle write to these people in a small neglected town he had never met, yet loved in Christ having been told of the work the Lord had been doing in their midst.

Most likely, Epaphrus had established this church, as we read in 4:12-13 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 in all the will of God. For I bear him record, that he hath a great zeal for you, and them that are in Laodicea, and them in Hierapolis. Paul’s confidence was not in his personal work, but in the work done through him and others by the Spirit of God.

One thought occurred to me –apostles were foundational to the New Covenant church (see Eph 2:20) yet most of them wrote no Scripture and are not mentioned much by those who did. Men who labor in obscurity, in man’s perspective, always are in view of our heavenly Father. Our service to one another is pleasing in His sight, even if we are not famous among men; as it is His Spirit that wills and equips us to do so. Let us never drift away from seeking God’s approval in favor of man’s.

  1. The circumstances surrounding this letter are two-fold: temporal and spiritual. Paul was in prison, we see this in chapter 4 where Paul describes himself as in bonds (twice) and a fellow prisoner with Aristarchus. We know Paul was in prison in Caesarea for two years (see Acts 24:24-27) but we do not see him having an open, on-going evangelical ministry. There is no record of Paul being in prison in Ephesus. Yet while in confinement in Rome, we read of a vibrant ministry, wherein he likely wrote this epistle and the letters to Philippi, Ephesus, and Philemon. Acts 28:30-31 And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him, Preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him. As I mentioned Wed evening, I think this circumstance is illustrative of the current status of Satan – where the angel cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season (Revelation 20:3). Locked up, but having an active influence through many of his minions.

The spiritual circumstances are more interesting and relevant to us. Like many of the first century churches, Colossae was a mixture of Gentile and Jewish saints. This is why he emphasized the new man in Christ, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him: Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all. (Colossians 3:10-11) Neither group had a problem accepting people like themselves, but each group needed reminders by a brother that each of them had been individually bought and re-created (spiritually) by Christ Jesus; that cultural and ethnic identities that divide people of the world have no place in the church, the body of Christ.

Each of the groups that comprised the church in Colossae brought some of their spiritual baggage from their previous lives into this new creation. We see this in the concern shown in 2:8 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. And verse 18 Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind. This lack of learning does not refer to base ignorance – Peter and John caused the council to marvel. The unlearned description was affixed to these fishermen because they spoke in the manner of the common man, rather than in the highly polished rhetoric that was common in public speakers in that day – such as Paul met at Mars Hill in Acts 17. I think this philosophy and vain deceit mentioned here refers to this same manner of puffed-up speaking, which Paul spoke against in his first letter to Corinth. The traditions of men no doubt refers to what we see in Matthew 15:1-2 Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying, Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread. These practices appeal to our human desire to follow rules and be well thought of but they are dangerous if imposed as necessary for being reconciled to God.

  1. This brings us to the reason Paul wrote this letter: doctrine impacts life, for as a man thinks in his heart, so is he (Prov 23:7). When saints believe wrongly on essential doctrines, our lives profane the savior and we lead others astray, serving as stumbling blocks instead of faithful servants.

There are three categories of error addressed in this epistle:

  1. Legalism, seen in 2:16-17
  2. False spirituality, seen in 2:18-19
  3. Asceticism, seen in 2:20-23

The corrective plan from Paul is not complex – have a right view of the Savior and of self. If our view of God is too low, our view of man will be too high. These three seriously wrong doctrines will fall of their own weight with a proper understanding of how sinful man is reconciled to holy God. And while we see warnings of error in this letter, the consistent theme woven throughout is to rightly comprehend the Lord Jesus and to daily fix our mind’s eye on Him.

  1. That, then, is what this letter teaches us – the same thing Paul was teaching the saints in the small backwater town of Colossae: Christ is enough; His grace is sufficient; we are safe in the strong tower of our God and King.

Listen to how Christ Jesus is described in this letter: He is called “Christ” (which means anointed one) 18 times; He is Christ Jesus the Lord; God’s beloved Son; the mystery of God; in Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge; He is the image of the invisible God; the creator and sustainer of all things; the head of the church; in Him the fullness of God dwells; Jesus is the soil in which we rooted and built up in; He is the substance and fulfillment of all of God’s promises and purposes which were portrayed in the ancient Jewish religion. Christ sits at the right hand of God, indicating the completion of His work; He is our refuge and our life; He is our goal and pattern for life; our teacher and our wisdom; He is our inheritance. He is our master, having freed us from the domain of master sin.

Kitchens says, “He is the origin of all creation (He is before all things); the sphere of all creation (by Him all things were created, both in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities); the agent of creation (all things have been created … by Him); the goal of all creation (all things have been created … for Him); and the sustainer of all creation (in Him all things hold together). Indeed, He is the King of all creation (the firstborn of all creation).” Do you get the idea that Paul considered an accurate picture of Christ as vital to the health of the church? When we see the comprehensive nature of our Lord’s supremacy, it is hard to take in, and – perhaps – a little more understandable when people have too low a view of Him. But a right view of God is essential to a proper view of self – as Isaiah shows us when he saw Him on the throne. In summing up the glorious unity the saints have, Paul said Christ is all and in all – all that we have as children of God is found in Jesus; and by His Spirit, He dwells in every one of us.

This union we have with Christ Jesus is the core of our standing before God. We who are in Christ have died with Him (Colossians 3:3 For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.); we were buried with Him (Colossians 2:12 Buried with him in baptism); and made alive with Him (Colossians 2:12 wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.). And He is our life (Colossians 3:4 When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.) This is guaranteed and made possible by His Spirit Who lives within us.

We have a new identity, in Christ Jesus. We have a new presence, Christ in us. We will walk and live, more and more, to grow in grace and knowledge of Him Who gave Himself for us. We don’t need programs and fancy facilities. We have God’s great and precious promises, all of which are summed up in the Lord Jesus Christ Who gave Himself as a ransom for helpless sinners. Find rest in Christ Jesus; find peace with God, now and forever, in Christ Jesus. Galatians 2:20 I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. That’s the gospel truth. It’s all we have; and that’s all poor sinners need. And it’s always good for the souls of the saints!

One thought on “Introduction to Paul’s Letter to the church at Colossae

Tell us what you think:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s