The Epistle to the Colossians

 

"And when this epistle hath been read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and that ye also read the epistle from Laodicea." -- Colossians 4:16

 

WHERE?

 

Colosse was a city of Phrygia in the Roman province of Asia, located in the south west of Asia Minor. It was situated on a hill, and about twelve miles north of Laodicea near a great trading route from Ephesus to the Euphrates. Another neighboring city, Hierapolis, was also important to travelers on the trade route, but paled in comparison to the importance of Colosse's reputation as a textile center. The place was renowned for the "collossinus," a peculiar wool which was probably purple or red in color.

 

While Laodicea was the capital of Phrygia, Colosse was known as one of the Phrygia's most opulent cities until an earthquake destroyed Colosse, Laodicea, and several other cities in the region in the tenth year of Nero (A. D. 65). This was while Paul was yet still alive.

 

Colosse recovered from the earthquake, but as the neighboring cities, Hierapolis and Laodicea, increased in importance, Colosse declined until the 7th and 8th centuries when it was overrun by the Saracents.  The Church in Colosse was destroyed by the Turks in the 12th century and in time the city simply disappeared.

 

WHEN?

 

Paul wrote the letters to the Ephesians and Colossians near the time which was evidently towards the end of his first imprisonment in Rome. It is for this reason that these two letters are generally called the "twin" letters. There is a similarity between the Colossians and Ephesians epistles. It probably was not only due to their closeness in the time of composition, but also that possibly there were parallel circumstances in each of these cities that Paul needed to address in these letters.

 

It is also evident that a letter to Philemon and another to Laodicea were written at about the same time because Tychicus and Onesimus delivered the letters to Colosse, Laodicea, and Philemon at the same time. (Colossians 4:7–9, Philemon 10–12, Ephesians 6:21–22) This supports the general view that these three letters were contemporaneous.

 

The Church in Colosse was composed of mostly Gentiles, but there were certain Judaizing elements which attempted to mix the Christian faith with certain Jewish mysticism. There is a statement made by Cicero (Pro Flacco 68) which estimates that over ten thousand Jewish males lived in the area of Laodicea, Hierapolis, and Colossae.

 

Colossians 4:16 states that this letter to Colosse was to be shared with the brethren in Laodicea and the letter to Laodicea was go to the brethren in Colosse.

 

Although Paul visited Ephesus in some of his missionary journeys, no record is mentioned of his visiting Colosse. Paul does make a request of Philemon (Philemon 22) to prepare a lodging for him when he was to be released from prison, but it is not an event which is recorded in Scripture or known to have occurred. Colossians 4:3 and Ephesians 6:19 suggest that his imprisonment ended in death.  Others suggest that he was released from prison and that his prayers for deliverance were answered, but no mention is made of Paul's visit to Colosse in any of his letters or any known historical record. If this is true, it shows Paul's confidence that his prayers would be answered. We too should pray believing that our prayers will be answered if they are in harmony with the will of God. (Matthew 21:22)

 

Paul had some contact or had personally visited most of the Churches he wrote to.  The Church in Colosse was an exception.  When he wrote his letter to the Colossians, we know that he did not know them for he wrote that he had only heard of their great faith and love for the saints through his friend Epaphras. It was Epaphras, one of Paul's fellow prisoners (Philemon 23), who spoke to Paul about the Church in Colosse. Perhaps it was Epaphras himself who started the Church there. -- (4:12)

 

INTRODUCTION

 

From the first verse of Colossians until verse nine, Paul speaks about himself and Timothy. After verse nine he uses the pronoun, "I" to emphasize that the letter comes primarily from him.

 

The other Epistles written at this time suggest that Timothy was then in Rome helping Paul. He is named six times in the address of Paul’s letters to the churches: here and in 2 Corinthians 1:1, Philippians 1:1, 1 Thessalonians 1:1, 2 Thessalonians 1:1, and Philemon 1." Timothy is not mentioned in Ephesians. Perhaps the reason he is mentioned here is that he may have had some sort of special relation to Colosse.

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

Paul calls himself an "Apostle" (the ‘sent out one’) and Timothy is described as a brother. In almost all of his letters, except Thessalonians and Philemon, he used the title "Apostle."  He uses this title to emphasize his authority and that what he says is from God and they should take notice to his words. (1:1-2)

 

In Colossians 1:1 and 1:25, he says that even though he is an Apostle, it is not because of his own doing, but because it was the will of God. (1:1, 25)

 

Paul's earnest desire for the Colossians was that they should be filled with the knowledge of the Father's will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding. (1:3-12) He wanted them to walk worthy of the Lord  (1:9-11)

 

The next verses are transition passages to show how Jesus has accomplished the plan for the Father’s Kingdom. This was all accomplished through the blood of Christ on the cross and it is the reason that we also have forgiveness of sins. (1:12-14)

 

The Father's will is for the reconciliation of all things in heaven and earth (1:20). These are the same all things (1:16-17).* in heaven and earth which were created through the Son (1:15-20)

 

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* (See THE IMAGE OF THE INVISIBLE GOD, and THE MADE MAKER in the September / October 2001 Herald of Christ's Kingdom for a further explanation of the role of Christ in the creation of the universe.)

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SELAH*

 

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* Selah is a Hebrew term used in the Psalms which means to pause and consider.

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We should pause for a moment and consider the wonder of the reconciliation.

 

"And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven." -- (1:20)

 

How are all things in earth and heaven reconciled by the blood?

 

We were all born into sin and are all condemned because of the condemnation of Adam. Romans 5:18 states, "Therefore as by the offense of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation." Like David, we were "born in sin and shapen in iniquity." (Psalms 51:5).

 

The earth also was cursed because of Adam's transgression. In Genesis 3:17 God says unto Adam, "Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake." This is why Romans 8:22 says that we "know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together."

 

Reconciliation is a bringing back into a former state of harmony (Strongs #604). All men, and all things in earth will be reconciled to God because of the blood of Christ on the cross.

 

The passage in Colossians 1:20 is comparable to a similar statement in Ephesians:

 

"Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: That in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him." (Ephesians 1:9-10)

 

Romans 5:19 states: "For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous."

While this explains how all things in earth are reconciled, but how are all things in heaven reconciled? Let us review our passage.

 

"And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile ...  things in heaven." -- (1:20)

 

How does the blood reconcile things in heaven?

 

Paul continues to explain this in the context:

"And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled. In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel." (1:21)

 

We are tentatively reconciled now, because we have accepted the gospel of the atonement of Christ, IF we continue in the faith and do not remove ourselves from the hope of the Gospel.

 

Our promise if we remain in the hope of the Gospel, is that we will "live and reign with Christ for a thousand years" (Revelation 20:4). We shall be Kings and Priests and "we shall reign on the earth." (Revelation 5:10) We will "take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom for ever, even for ever and ever, and all dominions shall serve and obey him." (Daniel 7:18, 27).


Jesus created all things in heaven and earth, as well as thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers that are in heaven and earth. (1:16) They all will serve and obey him.

 

But, "Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? . . . Know ye not that we shall judge angels?" -- 1 Corinthians 6:2 -3. We who serve Christ now, who are not removed from the hope of the Gospel, and who are found faithful unto death (Revelation 2:10) will reign with Christ, we will judge men and angels with Christ, and with Christ we shall "crush Satan under our feet shortly." (Romans 16:20, Genesis 3:15) This is how even the heavens will be reconciled at the end when Jesus delivers the kingdom back to the Father, when all enemies are under his feet, including that last enemy of death.  (1 Corinthians 15:24-28).

 

Paul continues to explain that the Colossians should understand what Jesus did for us and recognize their responsibility to it. Like the Church of Colosse, we know what condition we came from, but we also know our present condition in Christ. We should continue in the faith grounded and settled, and "be not moved away from the hope of the Gospel." (1:21-23)

 

Earlier in the chapter Paul explained that he was an Apostle, and here he describes what it is that he is ministering. He explains his role in the mystery of Christ and describes the role of all believers in that mystery and why he preaches this mystery to every man. (1:23-2:3)

 

CHAPTER TWO

 

Paul gives the Colossians a warning to keep close to Christ and away from the world. He reminds them that they took on Christ, and that they should continue in Him, and that together they can give praise to God, as they remain rooted and strong in the faith. (2:4-8)

 

The advice the Apostle gives to the Colossians should also be very much taken into our hearts.  We should "take care" that we do not go after "the beliefs of men and the theories of the world instead of Christ." (2:8 - Bible in Basic English.)

 

"For in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power." (Colossians 2:9-10)

 

We are reminded just as the Colossians were, that Jesus is now exalted to the Divine Nature. Jesus was "raised from the dead" to this position and now our trespasses against us are forgiven because he took the "condemnation that was written against us" and nailed it to the cross. Jesus was given this power and authority from God (Matthew 28:18). As the Son of God is complete in the Father, we are only complete in Jesus. (2:9-14)

 

The portion of the epistle examines how belief in the doctrine of Christ changes our lives, and that rituals are no longer important and that we should let no man judge us in respect to how we live our lives, for the laws, the feasts, festivals, rituals, holidays, the sabbath, were all shadows of the things to come. (2:15-17)

 

The Church of Colosse was involved with certain worldy philosophies and "wisdom." (2:18-19) There was some sort of heresy in Colosse which Paul was addressing at this point in his letter. This heresy probably evolved from the amalgamation of the Jewish and Greek cultures in the area. Whatever this heresy was, it was most likely one of the reasons that Paul wrote this letter and why he stressed the superiority of Christ, (1:15-18), rebuked "angel worship" (Colossians 2:18), and wrote against the commandments and doctrines of men (2:20-23).

 

There is no reason to believe that these Christians of Colosse worshipped angels for there is no evidence that any Jew anywhere ever worshipped angels. Paul's focus in this portion of his letter was to bring an answer to certain ideas that the Colossian Church had. We do not have enough information to be able to determine what these ideas were except for what Paul wrote in this letter.

 

"While some have ascribed these teachings to Gnostic or Essene sources, they more likely derive from a form of Jewish Christianity modified by influences from Hellenistic astrology and perhaps from the pagan mystery cults."  (Harper's Bible Dictionary)

 

"This does not mean, as it seems to me, that they would themselves worship angels, or that they would teach others to do it -- for there is no reason to believe this. Certainly the Jewish teachers, whom the apostle seems to have had particularly in his eye, would not do it; nor is there any evidence that any class of false teachers would deliberately teach that angels were to be worshipped." (Barne's Notes on the New Testament)

 

This has been a difficult phrase for many translators and Bible scholars for centuries to interpret. It would be very strange for Christians with a certain Judaising influence to worship angels since worship of angels was forbidden by Jewish law and customs. Perhaps the Colossians were emulating the reverential attitude of angels.

 

The word here rendered worship . . . occurs in the New Testament only here, in Acts 26:6 James 1:26,27, in each of which places it is rendered religion. It means here the religion, or the spirit of humble reverence and devotion which is evinced by the angels; and this accords well with the meaning in #Jas 1:26,27. ... Vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind. (BARNE'S NOTES)

 

We must fight against wordly "wisdom." Paul asks a rhetorical question, "if you be dead with Christ from this world" then "why as though you were still living in the world do you subject yourselves to ordinances?" These things seem to be wise in a sort of wisdom, but in reality they focus our attention on the things of this earth rather than the heavenly things we should be giving our attention to. (2:20-23)

 

CHAPTER 3

 

We are to seek heavenly things and set our goals to be with him in glory, not on the things of this earth. When Christ appears, then we shall appear with him in glory. (3:1-4)

 

In these verses Paul gives us practical ways of how we are to put off the old man and how we can put him to death. He tells us to put off the old man and his deeds and in the next verses he reminds us to put on the new man. (3:5-9)

 

The Apostle then details what our life in Christ is about. Instead of the "Thou Shalt Not" list he gave us in verses 5-9 he here gives us a list of "Thou Shalts." (3:10-15)

 

Paul reminds us that as Christians we are all a part of the body of Christ and he admonishes us in the ways of how we are to interact with other Brethren and how to edify each other in Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Whatever we do we should do in the name of Jesus and give thanks to the Father because of what Jesus has done in our lives. (3:15-17)

 

In the next portion of his epistle, he continues to give us practical ways to live this life in Christ, as well as the spiritual things we should do and not do, and reminds us again that we should not live after the commandments and doctrines of men. (3:17-25)

 

Continuing his list of practical ways to live our lives in Christ, Paul admonishes ways to live Christian lives in the family, as husbands, as wives, as parents, and as children. He describes how we should encourage each other in the most Holy faith and try not to discourage each other by the ways in which we act in the family at times. (3:17-21)

 

Next he admonishes that servants are to obey their masters. In our work place today we should do the same. We should work for our employers, not as we were working for mere men, but as if we were working for the Lord himself. (3:21-25)

 

Paul explains to the masters how they are to treat their servants. If we are employers, we should keep Paul's advice in mind because we too have a Master in heaven. (4:1)

 

CHAPTER 4

 

Chapter four concludes this epistle with general greetings to those of whom Paul was acquainted, and also to those who Paul had heard of within the Colossian Church.  He encourages them to share their letter with the Church of Laodicea (4:18) and that the Laodicean Church should share their letter with the Colossians. Perhaps the things that Paul writes to the Colossians were also the same experiences that Laodicea was having. (4:7-18)

 

How can we accomplish the things Paul writes about in this letter he wrote to the Colossians? We should devote ourselves to prayer. He gave us a certain list of examples of "thou shalt not's" and "thou shalt"s earlier in the third chapter, but here he reminds us that we should also watch and pray for those who are spreading the Gospel, we should thank God for all his mercies toward us. (4:2-4)

 

We, like the Colossians, should conduct ourselves in wisdom with those who are not Christians (4:4-6) and cognizant of the time we should let our speech always be with grace as this is how we should answer every man of the reason of the hope that is in us. (1 Peter 3:15)