Colossians is a letter to the church at Colossae in the Roman province of Asia, what is now part of Turkey. The Colossian church was, like the church at Ephesus, made up of Gentiles and Jews. Because of this Paul had to, on many occasions, help the Jewish parishioners understand that the old laws (only having the power to point out our sin and our unrighteousness) had been replaced with the grace that Jesus brought that has the power to save and make us righteous before a holy God. Here too in Colossae it seems that some of the old Jewish laws were being used to force a man-made righteousness on to the believers at Colossae.
Not only this, but it seems that there was other outside influences that were attempting to water-down who Christ was and His message. We don’t know exactly what this heresy was, but some believe that it was a form of Gnosticism. Gnosticism, like most heresies, have enough truth to them to be initially seen as good or even compatible with scriptures. However, as we look beneath the surface of Gnosticism we see the true nature of it.
In short, Gnosticism was based on three principals. The first being that salvation could only be achieved through some secret, not-previously-revealed knowledge that only those practicing Gnosticism possessed. Of course, only those seeking entrance into the Gnostic community would be told of this secret knowledge. Certainly this would have tickled the ears of some, enticing them to a greater understanding, 2 Timothy 4:3–4:
3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires 4 and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.
However, this was only a human knowledge that could not save nor did it have the power to change the hearts of the hearers.
Gnosticism also held to the idea of dualism between the physical and spiritual realms. Basically, the body (in the physical realm was inherently evil) while the spirit (in the spiritual realm) was inherently good. On the surface this sounds ok as we do live in a fallen world and we do sin. However, it flies in the face of Jesus who came in physical form as the pure undefiled sacrificial lamb of God. In the Gnostic’s eyes Jesus would have been considered evil as He was a physical man, therefore they could not have conceived of Him as the perfect sacrifice to God to reconcile sinners to a holy and perfect God.
There was a third principal of Gnosticism called the pleroma of aeons, which is so ridiculous that I’m not going to waste time discussing it. In short, this was a description of God and the other inhabitants of the spiritual world.
You can see how the Gnostic beliefs would have totally undermined the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul would not have this heresy infecting Christ’s church. As we saw in Ephesians and now in Colossians, Paul dearly loved the church. This letter was designed to refute the teachings of both the Jews (who kept to Old Testament ideals and traditions) and the Gnostics.
But how would Paul do this? How would he refute old traditions held for centuries among the Jews and at the same time refute this new heresy of Gnosticism pervading the church? Well, that is the main point of Colossians. The main point is that Christ is superior and therefore all we need! That bears repeating, Christ is superior and therefore all we need! Being in Christ, as believers, means that we already have everything we need to live life fully and righteously for Him. Traditions and human knowledge (a.k.a., Gnosticism) are inferior while Jesus is superior. Paul will bring out this point in the first two chapters of Colossians and continue to apply it throughout the last two chapters.
The first two chapters of Colossians cover theology, especially the study of who Jesus Christ our Lord is. The second two chapters cover our application of this knowledge personally as well as towards others. Let’s jump in.
1Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, 2 To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.
This is Paul’s introduction to his letter. It is very similar to the introductions in Ephesians and Philippians. Note the addition of Timothy in the introduction. It seems Timothy was with Paul at least during some of his imprisonment. Also of importance, as with Ephesians, this letter is addressed directly to the believers in the church at Colossae.
3 We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, 4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints; 5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel 6 which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth; 7 just as you learned it from Epaphras, our beloved fellow bond-servant, who is a faithful servant of Christ on our behalf, 8 and he also informed us of your love in the Spirit.
Paul here is expressing his thankfulness to the believers at Colossae. There is similar expressions of thankfulness in Paul’s other letters. Re-read the opening of Ephesians chapter 1 and notice the similarities and differences between the openings of these letters.
As we will also be working through Philippians and Philemon, make it a point to read the introductions to Philippians and Philemon (in addition to Ephesians). The introductions to all four of these books are similar yet specific to their audiences. But in all cases Paul expressed his deep thankfulness and love for all the brethren in the churches. Without this deep love and affection from Paul these letters would seem dry and simply full of facts and commands. But if you mix in this love Paul had for these churches his words become alive and full of compassion. This is how one bears fruit in their words towards other believers. Paul’s example is one that we should always bear in mind when interacting with other believers.
9 For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11 strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light. 13 For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
This is Paul’s prayer for the church at Colossae. Notice how it mirrors the prayer to the Ephesians in Ephesians 1:15–23:
15 For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
Paul is building on his relationship to the Colossians in the opening of this letter (Paul also does this in the letter to the Ephesians, even though the letter to the Ephesians was most likely sent to all churches in Asia, including Colossae, as we previously learned). Even though Paul was imprisoned and could not travel to be with the Colossians in person he could be with them in spirit. He accomplished this through prayer. Not only telling them that he was praying for them, but also telling them how he was praying for them. You see, telling a person (or a group of people) that you are praying for them is important but telling them how you are praying is vital! After all, how can those you pray for see the link between your prayers and God’s working if you don’t tell them the details of how you are praying.
It’s expressing the details of our prayers towards others that grows our deep affections towards one another within the church.