July 12, 2018
General Remarks on Colossians
Colossians is one of many letters written by the Apostle Paul while imprisoned in Rome around the year A.D. 62. The church of Colossae was probably founded during Paul's ministry in Ephesus, which spanned most of the years of A.D. 55-57. It is likely that Paul either travelled to Colossae, or that people from that city came in contact with him during visits to Ephesus. Epaphras, probably spent much time in Ephesus studying with Paul before being returning to Colossae to serve as a pastor (7). Paul knew many of the Colossians personally, and at least two, Philemon and Onesimus became Christians through the ministry of Paul himself (Philemon 10, 19).
Like the other prison letters, the Epistle to the Colossians gives a brief summary of Christian doctrine and practice in an attempt to enable the Church to resist the theological syncretism which threatened to engulf Christianity into a blend of Jewish customs, Greek philosophy, and eastern mysticism. Blended religion was very popular in the Roman Empire because it accepted all religions into it. Thus, a person could worship Jesus of Nazareth or Diana of the Ephesians, or both, according to his own desires and preferences. Much of Paul’s time and energy was spent refuting this trend, which would later become known as gnosticism. But Paul’s refutation consist primarily of preaching the Gospel of Christ. Thus, his works are not a point by point rebuttal of gnosticism as much as they are a demonstration of the ministry and teaching of Christ. We may be sure that he did many point by point rebuttals, but the works inspired by God as part of the New Testament concentrate primarily on Christ and the salvation He offers, rather than the errors of other religions.
We often encourage people to conduct themselves in a way that brings honour to whatever organisation they may be associated with. Perhaps there is no setting where this is more urged upon people than in the family. Everything we do reflects on the rest of the family. If we conduct ourselves with honour, we build respect for our family in the community. If we conduct ourselves with dishonour, we bring sorrow to our family members, and shame to our family name. It is no less true, in fact it may be more true, that our actions as Christians and members of Christ's body and Church, bring honour or disrepute to our Lord and His local congregation. Like it or not, people are always going to judge God and the Church by your actions and attitudes. So the words of Paul in verse10 are always relevant; "walk worthy of the Lord...being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God."
Many religions owe their origin to a single person, but Christians claim that the "Man" we follow was in every way nothing less than God Himself. Thus, Paul says of Christ, He is the image of the invisible God (15), the creator of all things (16), the head of the Church (18), and the fulness of all things (19). "The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us" (Jn. 1:14). Angels marvel at this. Wise men sought Him at great personal cost and risk. Ancient kings longed to see His advent. Yet, even more amazing than the bold fact that Jesus is God, is the startling, frightening statement that He allowed Himself to be tortured and murdered, and that in some mysterious way, we have peace with God through the blood of His cross (20).
Peace with God is not mere forgiveness. God has a higher purpose than simply letting us off for our sins. He forgives us to reconcile us. He forgives us to call us back into Himself, to know Him in all His glory and peace and fulness. He calls us to love and enjoy Him now and forever. He forgives us that He may give us His presence in a way that is so full and so complete it can only be described as "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (27).
Colossians 2 leads us into two important points. First is the danger of false doctrine and false teachers masquerading as Biblical Christianity. There have always been wolves in sheep's clothing, and of such people and doctrines we are warned to beware (8). Paul calls their teaching "vain deceit," the "tradition of men," "of the world," and "not after Christ." He warns that they will spoil us if we follow them. "Spoil" as used in verse 8 means to seduce and lead astray. It is to lead a person into ruin. Such is the end of those who persist in false doctrine.
Second, Colossians 2 encourages us to be "stablished" in the true faith (7). Paul refers to the doctrines he has taught to the Colossians and to all the Church. His doctrines are simply those taught by Christ, entrusted to the Apostles, and preserved in the Bible. These doctrines keep us rooted and built up in Christ. In their truth our faith will abound unto everlasting life.
Let us be plain about the applications of this passage of Scripture. If false teachers lead people to destruction, we attend their assemblies and sit under their teaching to our peril. We should make every effort to separate ourselves from them. If sound doctrine enables us to abound unto everlasting life, does it not make sense that we should spare no effort to bring ourselves and those we love under its influence as often as possible?
Man ever vacillates between the extremes of license and legalism. License is the idea that everything is moral as long it "doesn't hurt anyone." This is rapidly becoming the moral standard of many "Christians" today. Legalism is the idea that keeping a morass of confusing rules about things that really don't matter is the essence of faith and the best way to please God. License makes important moral issues trivial; legalism makes trivial things important moral issues.
Colossians 2:20-23 is about legalism, which false teachers are attempting to impose on the Church in Colossae. Their legalism is not about morality, it is about the Old Testament ceremonial laws. Its main point is the idea that Gentile Christians are required to keep the ceremonial law in order to be saved. They said Gentiles have to keep Passover, circumcision, and the Old Testament dietary rules. According to legalism one is saved by keeping these rules. According to grace one is saved by Christ's atoning death and righteousness imputed to us and received by faith. Legalism tries to earn Heaven; grace gives it as the free gift of God.
Colossians 3:1-11 exhort us to receive the gift of God by faith. Paul tells us to stop worrying about ceremonial rules and start seeking the real things of Christ above. He does not tell us there are no more rules. He clearly shows that every part of the moral law is still in force. But he denies that anyone will be saved by his attempts to keep the law. It is Christ, not the law, who is our life by giving us a righteousness we could never achieve through the law. It is our part, then, to seek Him and to set our affections on Him.
The heart of chapter three is verse 17. To do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ is to do things that are approved by Him. As He is absolute love, we will be merciful, kind, humble, and meek (12). We will forbear and forgive one another (13). As He is the author of peace we will let His peace rule in our hearts (15). As He is the Word of God we will let His word dwell in us richly. In this way Christ Himself dwells in us filling us with the luxuriant richness of His being.
One of the most striking features of the book of Colossians is the reconciliation and unity among Christians as seen in chapter 4. Two notable examples of this appear in the chapter.
First is Onesimus and Philemon. Philemon is a Christian in Colossae. Onesimus is Philemon’s slave, who has run away to Paul in Rome. Paul sends him back to Philemon, but tells him to receive Onesimus as a beloved brother, not a slave (Philemon 17-20). Thus, their fellowship in Christ, not the Roman laws of slavery, becomes the basis of their relationship, and the two are reconciled to each other in mutual Christian love. Verse 9 names Onesimus as a faithful and beloved brother, who will help inform the Colossians of Paul’s condition and imprisonment in Rome. Onesimus will carry another letter from Paul, which we know as the New Testament book of Philemon.
Second is Marcus, the son of Barnabas’ sister (10). Barnabas was sent by the Apostles to teach and oversee the new and growing church in Antioch (Acts 11:23). It was Barnabas who brought Saul (later known as Paul the Apostle) to Antioch. Under the mentoring of Barnabas, Saul began to preach and teach in Antioch, as God prepared him for the great missionary journeys that would establish churches in many far-off lands. Paul/Saul and Barnabas took John, also known as Mark, or Marcus, on their first missionary journey. While in Pamphylia, in southern Asia Minor (modern Turkey) John Mark left the others and returned to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13). Paul considered Mark’s departure a dereliction of duty, so, when Barnabas wanted to take John Mark on a second journey, Paul refused (Acts 15:36-41). Barnabas and Paul disagreed so completely they decided to go on separate journeys. Barnabas and Mark went to Cyprus; Paul and Silas went back to Asia. But in Colossians, Paul and Mark are reconciled. Mark is with Paul in Rome, and the Apostle commends his ministry to the Colossians (10).
The reconciliation of Paul with Barnabas and Mark, and the reconciliation of Philemon and Onesimus show how the exhortation to do all things heartily as unto the Lord (3:23) is accomplished in real life as we allow Biblical forbearance and love to direct our thinking and actions toward one another.
Paul tells the Colosians to read this letter, meaning to read in the Sunday services of the Church (16), and to “cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and that ye likewise read the epistle from Laodocea” (16). We do not have the Laodicean epistle, which means God in His wisdom did not lead the Church to include it in the Bible. But we do see a clear fact here that the whole Bible is for the whole Church. The fact that the Old Testament was written to the Jews, and much of the New Testament was written to congregations in specific cities in specific circumstances, does not negate the importance and application of the whole Bible to all churches and all people in all circumstances. We will actually see, as we read the Bible, that our circumstances, temptations, and needs are not essentially different from those to which the Bible books were first given. Therefore, the themes, doctrines, and counsel given in them apply equally to us. It cannot be otherwise if the Bile is truly the word inspired by God as 2 Timothy 3:16 teaches.
After encouraging Archippus in his ministry as a pastor in Colossea (17) Paul closes the letter by asking the people to remember his bonds (18). Remembering the bonds of Paul reminds them of the price he paid to bring the Gospel to them. It also reminds them that they are servants of the Lord, as much in the bonds of Christ as Paul. Finally, the Apostle ends with a blessing that expresses his heart-felt prayer for the people, “Grace be with you. Amen.”