Handbook of Colossians
The Godhood and All-Sufficiency of Christ
The Church at Colossae. Colossae was a city of Phrygia, from which country some were present at Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:10), and through which country Paul had gone on both his second and third missionary journeys (Acts 16:6; 18:23). It may be that on one of these journeys Paul had visited Colossae, though
the language of 2:l may, but not necessarily, imply that Paul had not been there. Another possibility is that the church may have been the result of Paul's work in Ephesus (Acts 19:10), for Colossae was near the border of "Asia," about 100 miles east of Ephesus. Epaphras (l:7; 4:12-13), may have been its founder.
Occasion and Date of the Epistle.
Paul was in prison in Rome, A.D. 61-63. He had written a previous Letter concerning Mark (4:10). Meantime Epaphras, one of the Colossians, had come to Rome with the word that a dangerous heresy was making headway in the church. He was imprisoned, it seems (Philemon 2l). Then Paul wrote this Letter, and sent it by Tychicus and Onesimus (4:7-9), who also bore the Letter to the Ephesians and the one to Philemon
(Ephesians 6:21 ).
The Colossian Heresy. It seems to have been an admixture of Greek, Jewish and Oriental religions, a sort of "higher thought" cult, parading itself under the name of "philosophy" (2:8), calling for the worship of angels as intermediaries between God and man (2:18), and insisting on the strict observance of certain Jewish requirements
almost to the point of asceticism (2:16, 21), put forth in high-sounding phrases of an assumed superiority: all as a part of the Gospel of Christ.
Similarity to Ephesians. Colossians and Ephesians were written at the same time. They are both carefully wrought out statements of the great doctrines of the Gospel, to be read aloud in the churches, and are very similar in many of their passages. But their main themes are entirely different: Ephesians, the Unity and Grandeur of the Church; Colossians, the Deity and All-Sufficiency of Christ.
Paul's Thanksgiving for Them (3-8). "We give thanks" (3). How often Paul starts his Letters that way: Romans 1:8; I Corinthians 1:4; Ephesians 1:16; Philippians 1:3; 1 Thessalonians 1:2; 2 Thessalonians 1:3; 2 Timothy 1:3; Philemon 4. Good news from the scattered brethren filled his soul with joyful gratitude. "Faith" "Love" "Hope" (4-5), are his favorite words: Faith in Christ, Love toward the saints, Hope of heaven. Notice that it is their Hope that is the motive that produces hair Love, "because of" (5. See 1 Corinthians 13; 1 Thessalonians 1:3)."Heard of" (4), does not necessarily mean he had not been to Colossae, for he uses it in Ephesians 1:15. We know he had been in Ephesus. But had been away some years. "All the world" (6), and "all creation" (23), mean that the Gospel had, by that time, 32 years after the death of Jesus, been preached to the whole know world. Within the first generation the Church became an established world-wide fact.
Paul's Prayer for Them (9-12). One of the four most beautiful of Paul's prayers for his churches, the other three being Ephesians 1:16-19; 3:14-19; Philippians 1:9-11. "Spiritual wisdom" (9), means knowing how to live a Christ-like life. "Strengthened with all power" (11), so as to be joyfully patient under all circumstances.
The Godhood of Christ (13-20). Epithets applied to Christ in this Epistle are: "Image of the invisible God," "First-born of all creation," "All things created through Him," "He is before all things," "In Him all things hold together," "Head of the Church," "The beginning," "The first-born from the dead," "In Him all fulness dwells," "Through Him all things are reconciled," "Christ in you is the hope of glory," "In Him are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge," "In Him dwells all the fulness of Godhood bodily," "In Him you are made full" (brought to perfection), "The head of all principality and power." "First-born of all creation" (15), does nor mean that He was created, but has the Old Testament meaning that He is "heir" to the created universe.
Thrones, Dominions, Principalities, Powers (1:16). This, and such passages as Ephesians 6:12, arc a Biblical intimation that there are in the unseen world numerous varieties of persons and governments of which our visible world is a tiny counterpart, and that Christ's death not only made possible man's redemption, but became the means of restoring the broken harmony of the whole vast universe.
Suffering for the Church (24-29), to fill up that which is lacking. Not that the suffering of Christ is insufficient for our salvation, but the Church as a whole cannot arrive at perfection till it has gone through suffering. Paul was anxious to bear his share. (See I Peter 3:3).
"The mystery" (26, 27 , see note on Ephesians 3:3 ) .
"Christ in You, the Hope of Glory" (27). The essence of Paul's message in this Epistle is this: Christ is the Head of the Universe. We approach Him directly, not through intermediary angels. He, not this or that philosophy, or this or that set of rules, but Christ Himself is our Wisdom, our Life, our Hope of Glory. Being a Christian, essentially, is Loving HIM, Living in HIM, a Person, a Glorious, Divine Person, through whom the universe was created, and in whom is entire sufficiency for Man's Redemption and Eternal Perfection.
Paul's Personal Interest in Them (1-5). "As many as have not seen my face in the flesh" (1), is taken by some to mean that Paul had not been in Colossae. But there is no way of knowing whether it includes, or is in addition to, the "you" preceding. The personal greetings of 4:7-18 certainly indicate that Paul was well acquainted in Colossae. He was hoping soon to come there (Philemon 22), (Philemon was one of them). "Laodicea" (1), was a nearby city, about ten miles away. Paul had written them a Letter also, along with this one to the Colossians (4:16). Some think it may have been
a copy of the Ephesian Letter.
"The Mystery" (2). This may have been one of the pet words of the "philosophers" of Colossae. It is used a number of times (1:26, 27; 4:3), of certain phases of God's purpose, hitherto unrevealed. (See note on Ephesians 3:3-9.)
The Philosophers of Colossae (4, 8). A philosopher is a man who spends his life trying to understand what he knows before he starts that he cannot understand. Christ is the center of a whole system of truth, some of it very easy to understand, and some not so easy, stretching out to things "beyond the reaches of our souls." A philosopher sees in Christian teaching certain things that fit in with his philosophy. He accepts Christ, and calls himself a Christian. But in his thinking certain of his philosophic abstractions are central, and Christ himself personally is just a sort of shadow, in the background. We know people like that: militant proponents of some pet theory or doctrine, but you would never suspect them of having much love or admiration for Christ personally.
Legalists (16; 20-22). Unlike the philosopher, a man with a more practical turn of mind does not bother much about things he cannot understand, but wants to know what to do to be a Christian. He sees certain plain commandments, or what appear to him to be plain commandments, and he obeys them. And to him those commandments
are central, and Christ himself personally is just a sort of shadow in the background. We know people like that too.
Who are Legalists? They are those who rest their salvation on themselves rather than on Christ. Of course we want to believe all the doctrines correctly, and to our utmost obey all the commandments. But, if, in our'thinking, we put too much stress on what we believe or what we do, are we not perilously near to resting our salvation on ourselves? Christ, not a doctrine, not a commandment, is our Saviour. He, not ourselves, is the basis of our hope. We must not minimize the necessity of believing right doctrines. But after all, being a Christian is, essentially, Loving Christ, a Person, rather than believing this or that doctrine, or obeying this or that commandment. We believe doctrines or obey commandments as unto Christ. We must not love them more than we love Him. If we love a doctrine overmuch we ere apt to grow cross and hard and sour toward those who do not agree with our doctrine. If we love a Person, Christ a
Person, we grow like Him. Paul, in this Epistle, was aiming to correct the false doctrines of the Judaizers on the one hand and the Greek philosophers on the other, and resultant compromise doctrines. But even if our beliefs are Scripturally sound there is such a thing as exalting some truth about Christ above Christ Himself. And when we thus top the balance of our partnership with Christ to our own side we are Legalists. It is possible to be a legalist over a doctrine of Grace.
Worship of Angels (18). Some were teaching that man is too unworthy to approach Christ directly: he needs the mediation of angels. And they were proud of their humility. We do not know of any such teaching today. But its counterpart remains in the worship of the Virgin Mary as an intermediary.
Asceticism (20-23). The practices referred to are nor specified. Self-imposed austerities and self-chosen humiliations in certain directions are of no value in offsetting unrestrained sensual indulgence in other directions.
The Person to Person Relation with Christ is the emphasis of this Epistle: Christ in you the hope of glory (1:27). Walk in Him, Rooted in Him, Builded up in Him (2:6, 7). In Him brought to perfection (2:10). Died with Him (2:20). Raised with Him (3:1). Your
life is hid with Him in God (3:3).
The Word and Singing (16), are mentioned together. This refers to Christian assemblies, where the teaching of the Word and the singing of hymns are the main means of promoting the growth of Christian life. O for more of in in the churches!
Churches Met in Houses. Several are mentioned. Nymphas in Laodicea (Colossians 4:15). Philemon in Colossae (Philemon 2). Gaius in Corinth (Romans 16:23). Aquila and Priscilla in Ephesus (I Corinthians 16:19); and later in Rome (Romans 16:5). They had to meet where they could. It was not until the third century that church buildings came into general use. Yet the church made marvelous growth. Many small congregations are better than a few large ones.