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!

The Sufficiency of Christ

Brian Hedges’ book, Christ All Sufficient, an Exposition of Colossians, is a welcomed book in 9781633421219any Christian’s library. It is widely recognized that Colossians is perhaps the most Christocentric book in the Bible; every preacher loves to preach from this text. Hedges’ book adds a rich tapestry of theology and doctrine to our understanding of this epistle that will cause the reader to rejoice and be in awe of his Savior.

Ten concise chapters bring out various themes from this letter in a consistent focus on our main goal in life – to glorify our God and King. Our author covers the gospel from three perspectives – the power of the gospel, the ministry of the gospel, and the mission of the gospel; all it very well presented and founded on the epistle being examined.

What thrills my soul the most and what ought to stir any saint to desire a deeper walk with Christ is the study of the nature and work of the Lord Jesus. In his chapter titled The Supremacy of Christ, Hedges reminds us that Jesus is “not only reveals to us God’s character and nature, he also perfectly bears the imago Dei as the Adam. He shows us what it means to be truly human.” (page 52) Since the first Adam, each of us has born the image of God in a twisted, marred manner as we were marked by sin from conception and every thought that followed. Jesus is the perfect image and He will be among us on the new earth. Hedges also reminds us of Jesus’ role in creation and in holding things together, as all things were created by Him and for Him. “The implications of this for believers is astounding … believers should never live in fear …” (page 54)

As Col 1:20 tells us Christ brings peace with the Father, our author rightly tells us “Peace is more than just a cease-fire in the conflict between God and humanity: it is the restoration of cosmic and relational harmony under the supreme lordship of Jesus Christ across all domains of existence.” (pages 57 & 58) There is nothing to fear in this life where all they can do is kill the body. Our refuge, our security is eternal and is more secure than anything all the armies of this age could provide.

In chapter V on the Sufficiency of Christ, we are encouraged to walk in obedience to our Lord with thanksgiving. We are complete in Christ, united with Him who is the fullness of God. Paul wrote that the ordinances against us were nailed to the His cross, a vivid word picture that communicates the imputation of sin onto Jesus. Horatio Spafford put this in lyrics that Hedges quotes and every Christian ought to love:

My sin, O the bliss of this glorious thought!

My sin, not in part, but the whole,

Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,

Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

Addressing Col 2:15, Hedges tells us, “Paul here alludes to the victory parade following a Roman victory, an image also appearing in 2 Corinthians 2:14.” (page 86) and follows up with “The powers of darkness thus have no claim and can pose no threat to those who are in Christ.” (page 87” I think our author was channeling Martin Luther:

And though this world, with devils filled,

Should threaten to undo us,

We will not fear, for God hath willed

His truth to triumph through us.

The Prince of Darkness grim,

We tremble not for him.

His rage we can endure,

For lo, his doom is sure.

One little word shall fell him.

That one word, of course, is the person of Christ – none other. Confidence in Him, the one in whom there is salvation; that is what this book builds up. Colossians is God’s Word about the person and work of God’s Son. Brian Hedges’ book gives the reader an excellent look into some of the deeper, richer meanings of what the Spirit spoke through the apostle.

Jesus IS Lord in Colossians, and 1st & 2nd Thessalonians

Colossians 1:1-3—Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are in Colosse: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you.

Colossians 2:6—As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him.

Colossians 3:16-24—Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. Wives, submit to your own husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be bitter toward them. Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well pleasing to the Lord…And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.

Colossians 4:7—Tychicus, a beloved brother, faithful minister, and fellow servant in the Lord, will tell you all the news about me.

Colossians 4:17—And say to Archippus, “Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it.”

________________________________________

1st Thessalonians 1-8—Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers, remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of our God and Father…And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction…from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place.

1st Thessalonians 2:14-15—You also suffered the same things from your own countrymen, just as they did from the Judeans, who killed both the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they do not please God and are contrary to all men.

1st Thessalonians 2:19—For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming?

1st Thessalonians 3:8-13—For now we live, if you stand fast in the Lord. For what thanks can we render to God for you, for all the joy with which we rejoice for your sake before our God…Now may our God and Father Himself, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way to you. And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all, just as we do to you, so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints.

1st Thessalonians 4:1-6—Finally then, brethren, we urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus that you should abound more and more, just as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God; for you know what commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification…that no one should take advantage of and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also forewarned you and testified.

1st Thessalonians 4:15-17—For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.

1st Thessalonians 5:2—You yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night.

1st Thessalonians 5:9-12—For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ…And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you

1st Thessalonians 5:23-28—Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ…I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read to all the holy brethren. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.

________________________________________

2nd Thessalonians 1:1-2—Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

2nd Thessalonians 1:7-12—…and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power…Therefore we also pray always for you that our God would count you worthy of this calling…that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

2nd Thessalonians 2:1-2—Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come.

2nd Thessalonians 2:8—And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming.

2nd Thessalonians 2:13-17—But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth, to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ…Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and our God and Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting consolation and good hope by grace, comfort your hearts and establish you in every good word and work.

2nd Thessalonians 3:1-6—Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified, just as it is with you, and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men; for not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful, who will establish you and guard you from the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord concerning you, both that you do and will do the things we command you. Now may the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the patience of Christ. But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us.

2nd Thessalonians 3:12—Now those who are such we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread.

2nd Thessalonians 3:16-18—Now may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace always in every way. The Lord be with you all. The salutation of Paul with my own hand, which is a sign in every epistle; so I write. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.

“Paul never quoted Jesus!” (Colossians)

Part 7, continuing the daunting task of correcting those who would rather live by their own righteousness than to admit that God is God.

Colossians 1:5…because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel, which has come to you, as it has also in all the world, and is bringing forth fruit.

  • John 15:16“You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you.”

Colossians 1:13He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love.

  • Matthew 11:26-28“Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight. All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

Continue reading