We are beginning a look at Paul’s letter to the church in Colossae. When I was beginning this study I remembered how the late, Ray Stedman, described this letter as Paul’s instructions on how to gain the “Power to Endure With Joy,” and this has stayed with me all these years because it is a perfect description for Paul’s letter.
Just to set the stage, Colosse was a city in what is now Turkey and located about 125 miles east of Ephesus. Originally, Colosse was on the trade route from west to east which made it quite an important city. However, the main road eventually changed and moved north near Hierapolis and Laodicea. As a result, those two cities grew in importance and actually surpassed Colosse in wealth and prestige and eventually, Colossae became a relatively small, unimportant village.
When you read any of Paul’s letters, he was normally writing to churches he actually began. However, in the case of the church in Colossae, and also in Rome, he was not the founder, but the members certainly knew about Paul. In fact, Paul had never even visited Colossae before he wrote this letter, but he does imply that Epaphras founded the church, along with those at Laodicea and Hierapolis (Colossians 1:7-8; 4:12-13). Scholars tell us this was probably during Paul’s third missionary journey, when he preached in Ephesus for two years, “so that all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks” (Acts 19:10). In Colossians 2:1 he wrote: “I want you to know how great a struggle I am having for your sake, and for those in Laodicea and for all who have not seen me personally.”
A few things we do know, the church in Colosse was located in the same Roman province of Asia where Ephesus was the capital and where Paul had ministered. People from that entire area came to hear Paul, and this certainly included Colosse as well. Those who worked with Paul, as well as those converted by Paul’s preaching, carried the gospel of Jesus to the entire area.
Paul wrote this letter around the same time as the letter to Philippi, as well as the letter to the Ephesians. Since this was during Paul’s first period in the Roman prison scholars refer to these as the “Prison epistles.” One thing you might notice between Ephesians and Colossians is that the church in Colossi had a problem. You see, they were on the verge of losing their understanding of the power behind the Christian life. I think this is something modern Christians struggle with, as well, so maybe this letter will help us regain our understanding and love of our Lord’s power and presence. Hence the subtitle of this study: The Power to Endure with Joy!
As the story goes, Epaphras had traveled 1,500 miles or more to visit Paul because there was evidently some dangerous teachings being spread in the church, and he was hoping Paul would write a letter to send back to a congregation of Believers. In their eyes, Paul was kind of “grandfather” of their faith, and wanted his input.
As you would expect, commentators are split as what these false teachings were, but most agree it was a strange mix of religious and philosophical errors from a Greco-Roman, mysterious, proto-Gnostic, and even Jewish background that was causing the church to stumble. For instance, many false teachers were spreading the idea that Jesus was simply one of many intermediaries between God the Father and humanity. They were also spreading a false philosophy, involving some kind of angel worship and asceticism.
Throughout this letter, Paul uses terms like gnōsis, plērōma, and sophia—knowledge, fullness, and wisdom—to directly subvert the false teaching that was denigrating the Lord. Paul carefully choose his words, showing how the work of Jesus completely trumps the false philosophy, and how He is supreme over all spiritual forces.
Unlike other studies I have prepared, I am going to approached this by taking Paul’s words, and simply adding my comments. I may interject other points, but for the most part, I want Paul’s words to speak for themselves. We just have to read them in their entirety, and continually remind ourselves that although Paul is not writing to Twenty-First Century Believers, they do indeed pertain to our every-day lives.
So . . . let’s get started!
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