St Paul’s Letter to the Colossians
During Paul’s stay at Ephesus the message of the Gospel was carried inland by his zealous converts. Among these was Epaphras, who evangelised the towns of Colossae, Laodicea and Hierapolis, situated in the valley of the Lycus River little more than a hundred miles east of Ephesus. The Apostle took a personal interest in the work of his disciple. A few years later, while he was being detained for trial before Caesar, he had news of the Colossians through Epaphras. Though the report of the evangelist was, on the whole, favourable, he saw dangerous tendencies in the young Christian community. Self appointed teachers claimed for angels a very high place of honour, and boasted of a deeper knowledge of Christianity, insisting on Judaic observances and a false practice of severe self discipline and abstention from pleasure. Concerned lest his work be destroyed, Epaphras had come to Rome to seek help from Paul.
Paul met the danger by sending a letter to Colossae, borne by Tychicus. To counter the errors he set forth in clear terms the true doctrine concerning Christ, our Redeemer, head of the mystical body, the Church, and drew up rules for an ideal Christian life. Between these positive sections, the Apostle inserted a vigorous condemnation of the false teachings. Because of the emphatic statement of Christ’s divinity that they contain, the first two chapters of the letter are of great doctrinal importance.
The Epistle to the Colossians bears a remarkable resemblance to the Epistle to the Ephesians. Most of the words and phrases of this shorter letter are met with in the other also. Written at the same time, both were addressed to communities of Jewish ands pagan converts, struggling in like circumstances to maintain the purity of their faith. The two Epistles should be read and studied together.
Opening Greetings and Prayer.
1. It is characteristic of Paul to begin with thanksgiving. He has his Christian priorities – and his psychology – right. But his warm-hearted praise is genuine, not just sugar to coat the pill of the lecture to follow. His loving care (and his prayer list) extended beyond the churches he himself had brought into being, to groups of Christians he had never even met. It
cheered him immensely to hear of their faith and love and hope. And he longed for God to give them fuller understanding and spiritual maturity. Colossians 1:1‑14.
Christ is Head of all Creation.
2. The thought of God’s rescue mission, lifts Paul into pure poetry as he attempts to capture in words the nature and works of Christ. Jesus is the living expression of God himself – active in creation, upholding all that exists. Christ is first – in existence, in power, in position. He has the first place in God’s creation. He is the head of the church and the source of its life. Through the death of his Son, God has made us his friends. Good news indeed! Colossians 1:15-23.
Paul’s Labours in the Service of the Gentiles.
3. The apostles’ job is to make God’s message known. The philosophers hint at secrets, at deep things known only to the initiated. This is God’s open secret: ‘Christ – in you!’ A share in God’s own glory for every Christian! This is a ‘secret’ worth knowing. It makes all Paul’s struggle and effort ‘to preach Christ to everyone’ worthwhile. Colossians 1:24-29 & 2:1-5.
Live According to the True Faith, Not According to False Teaching.
4. An Appeal for Christian Maturity. False argument is filtering into the Colossian church from various quarters. It was misleading and dangerous because it was based on human teaching and not on Christ.
Christ Alone is the True Head of all Humanity and the Angels.
5. Christ is the One who embodies ‘all the fullness’ of God and in him Christians find their own fulfilment. Colossians 2:9-10.
Jewish Law Superseded.
6. By his death the Jewish law (Judaism itself) has been superseded: the shadow has given way to reality. ‘Then why behave as though you were still living the life of the world?’ The old practices of ‘Do not handle!’, ‘Do not taste!’, ‘Do not touch!’ were still being obeyed. These are destined to perish. Colossians 2:11-23.
General Rules of Christian Behaviour.
7. There is good sense in rules, renewed in the likeness of Christ, taking on his character. ‘Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to earthly nature : sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.’ Also rid yourselves of anger, rage, malice, slander and filthy language. Do not lie to each other. The loving, forgiving Lord is the model for Christian behaviour. His word shapes our thinking. Colossians 3:1-11.
The Morals of the Home and Household.
8. Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. The new life is one of prayer and thanksgiving to God. Home and household are transformed by outgoing, unselfish love in every relationship. Wives, submit to your husbands. Husbands, love your wives, Children, obey your parents. Fathers do not embitter your children. Slaves obey your masters. Masters provide your slaves with what is right and fair because you know that you have a Master in heaven. Persevere in prayer. Colossians 3:12-25 & 4:1-6.
9. Personal News. The reference to Tychicus and Onesimus links this letter with Ephesians and Philemon. All three letters would seem to have been sent at the same time by the same messenger. It is good to find Mark reinstated after the trouble he once caused between Paul and Barnabas. Arstarchus, who though a Jew came from Greece, was another longstanding companion of Paul’s and he had been involved in the riot at Ephesus. Luke stayed with Paul to the end, but Demas defected. Epaphras, the Colossian, has been mentioned already. Archippus may be Philomen’s son. Nympha, in Laodicae, is only one of those who opened their homes to the local Christian group long before there were church buildings. Aquila and Priscilla at Ephesus and later in Rome, Philemon at Colossae and Gaius at Corinth all did the same. The whole church is deeply in their debt. Colossians 4:7-17.
10. Paul completes the letter ‘in my own hand’, and asks that ‘the chains I wear’ be remembered. Colossians 4:18.