Colossae was a town 100 miles inland from Ephesus, in the heart of the Lycus Valley. The apostle had never visited the church there (1:4; 2:1), which was probably planted by Epaphras (1:7; 4:12-13) who had been converted through Paul’s ministry, when Paul was at Ephesus (Acts 19:10). There was a large Jewish population in the valley and it's possible that a version of monastic Jewish thought was affecting the church’s outlook.
The letter was written when Paul was in prison in Rome in 59-61AD around the same time as the letters to the Ephesians and Philemon. This is clear from the similarities between Ephesians and Colossians. The same postman, Tychicus, delivered them and the same people are recorded as being with the apostle during the house arrest of his prison stay (Colossians 1:1; Philemon 1, Colossians 4:10-14; Philemon 23-24).
It seems probable that Epaphras shares news of a heresy that was affecting the church. Paul was already writing to the Ephesians and so also writes to the Colossians using similar themes but addressing the specific problems apparent in the church. It is not altogether clear what the heresy was. We know that an approach to spiritual life know as Gnosticism had come against the church some decades later and it would seem that an early form of this was affecting the church at Colossae.
Further, in light of its strong Jewish population it seems likely that the heresy may be connected to Jewish monasticism. There were questions about whether Jesus was fully human. There was also a belief that Christians need some special experience to experience ‘higher knowledge’; an emphasis on circumcision (2:11; 3:11) traditions (2:8); and asceticism (2:21-23).
Paul was looking to correct errors that had crept into the Colossians’ understanding of Jesus and the life that He promises. They don’t believe He was fully man. They think that to be a true Christian you need to have special knowledge that only they had and that to be true Christians you need their approach to knowledge through a list of practices, including circumcision.
Paul explains that Christ is fully able to save us. He is the creator, fully human, who keeps the universe in existence, who rose from the dead and has true authority over everything, including what enslaves us. Our behaviour matters, but comes from our secure life in Jesus which leads us to want to live for God, saying no to sin and yes to Him. The battle against sin is rooted in their changed nature - a direct result of the sufficiency of Christ applied, at home and at work.
Why read it?
Who is important?
You can forget how important Jesus is. You can assume that what is really important is what you see and touch and taste. This letter reminds us who is truly important.
How should you live?
You may think that as long as you believe the right thing in your head, all is well. This letter reminds us that God looks for behaviour in keeping with what we believe. There are things to bring into your life and things to let die. Paul uses 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 do you need to say?
Although Paul had been a speaker for 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 you to do the same. Ask people to pray for you that you may share your faith wisely and helpfully.
|1||Christ above all in the church|
|2||Christ above all in the universe|
|3||Christ above all in the home|
|4||Christ above all in the community|