Colossae was a town 100 miles inland from Ephesus, in the heart of the Lycus Valley. The Apostle Paul had never visited the church there (1:4; 2:1), which was probably planted by Epaphras (1:7; 4:12-13). He was from Colossae (4:12) and had gone to Rome to visit Paul (4:12-13, Philemon 23). It is probable that Epaphras was one of the leaders of the church in Colossae.
This letter was written when Paul was in prison in Rome in AD 59-61, around the same time as he wrote the letters to the Ephesians and Philemon: the same people are recorded as being with the Apostle Paul when he was imprisoned under house arrest (Colossians 1:1; Philemon 1, Colossians 4:10-14; Philemon 23-24). Tychicus delivered all the letters.
It seems probable that Epaphras shared news of false teaching that was affecting the church. Paul was already writing to the Ephesians and Colossians about similar matters but addressed the specific problems apparent in each church. The nature of the false teaching is unclear. We know that an approach to spiritual life known as Gnosticism had come against the church some decades later and an early form of this may have affected the church at Colossae.
Paul corrected a wrong view of the Old Testament Law, including circumcision (2:11-14, 3:11), and also challenged ascetic religious rules about harsh self-denial (2:8; 2:16-23). There were questions about whether Jesus was really enough, and also a wrong belief that Christians needed some special experience or special knowledge to have a full relationship with God (2:18).
Paul wrote to correct errors that had crept into the Colossians’ understanding of Jesus and the gospel. In chapter 1 Paul reminded the church that Jesus Christ is supreme over everything, and that through Him believers are fully reconciled to God. The big message is that because Jesus is all-sufficient, Christians do not need anything else in order to know and grow in relationship with God. Paul’s message is ‘He is the One we proclaim’ (1:28) and all God’s truth is found in Him (2:2-4). Therefore, ‘continue in Him’ (2:6) - no special experiences, knowledge or special rules are needed. All we need is Jesus. Christian living is not adding anything on to Jesus but living the new life He has given believers to live (3:1-4).
Who is important?
Never forget how important Jesus is. Paul explained that Christ is fully able to save us. He is both the Creator God and fully human. He sustains the universe by His power, rose from the dead and has true authority over everything, including whatever enslaves us. Any teaching that suggests that Jesus is not enough is serious error. Any teaching that says Jesus is not God is wrong. Any teaching that is not based on His Word, found only in the Bible, is dangerous.
How to live?
Right living comes from knowing we are secure in Jesus, which leads us to want to live for God. The battle against sin is rooted in our changed nature – that is, in what God has done for us by Christ dying and rising for us (2:6, 2:11-15, 3:1-4). Because Jesus is enough, He strengthens believers by showing how to live for God in all areas of life: at church, work, home and leisure. This letter is full of practical instructions (for example 3:18-25). Believing what God says needs to be matched by godly behaviour. There are things to bring into your life and things to let die, things to take off and things to put on (3:5-14). Paul used the baptism picture. A believer ‘died with Christ’; therefore, we need to die to our sins. We have also been raised with Christ; therefore, we must live well in Him and put on qualities that are motivated by Christian love.
What to pray?
Like many of Paul’s letters, Colossians includes examples of Paul’s prayers and spiritual desires. In 1:9-13 Paul prays for the church to know God’s wisdom to live God’s way to bring God praise. In 1:28-2:5 Paul tells us his goal in ministry: to teach everyone all about Jesus so that they will be kept from false teaching and be firm in their faith and faithful in their living. In 4:2-6 Paul asks for prayer for evangelism. Although Paul had preached about Jesus for many years, he asked the church to pray for him so that he would use every opportunity to talk about Jesus, and he encourages Christians to do the same. At the end of the letter, Paul wrote about the prayers of Epaphras, one of their leaders. It is a good example of the purpose and passion of godly prayer.
|1:1-23||Christ is greater than all|
|1:24-2:23||Christ is sufficient for everything|
|3:1-4:1||Christ is the reason for a transformed life|
|4:1-18||Christ is the gracious Master whose service is liberating|