Paul’s Letter to the Colossians

Epaphras was a great servant of the Lord; he had informed Paul of the situation in parts of Asia Paul had yet to visit. Paul would write letters to Colossae and Laodicea as a result; his letter to the Colossians remains part of the New Testament.

Paul’s letter to the Colossians is the twelfth book in modern editions of the New Testament. Paul and Timothy are listed as its authors, but Paul’s is the primary voice (Colossians 1:1); Colossians 4:18 may suggest that the rest of the letter had been dictated to an amanuensis. Pauline authorship of Colossians is highly contested among scholars: many do not believe he wrote it, yet many defend Paul’s authorship of the letter; any stylistic differences can be attributed to a less familiar audience and/or maturity on Paul’s part. Paul remains a prisoner while writing Colossians (Colossians 4:10); Tychichus would speak of Paul’s affairs, as in Ephesians 6:21-22; mention of Onesimus and Archippus strongly suggest close association between Colossians and Philemon (Colossians 4:9, 17, Philemon 1:1-2, 10): therefore, Colossians is reckoned as one of the Prison Epistles, most likely written and distributed at the same time as Ephesians and Philemon, and Philemon is most likely not only a member of the church in Colossae but hosts the congregation at his house (Philemon 1:2). Colossae was struck by a major earthquake around 61, and the town was never the same again; Paul most likely wrote the letter before this event in prison in Caesarea (ca. 59-60; cf. Acts 23:23-26:32). Paul wrote to the Colossians to encourage them to root their faith in Christ, avoiding all the various heresies of the age, and to live accordingly.

After a standard epistolary greeting (Colossians 1:1-2), Paul gave thanks to God for the Colossians and their faith (Colossians 1:3-23): their faith, hope, and love; their acceptance of the Gospel which bore fruit around the world; Paul prayed that they might be filled with knowledge of God, walk worthily of the Lord, strengthened with power, giving thanks to God who rescued and delivered the Colossians into the Kingdom of His Son; Jesus as the source of redemption, firstborn of creation, pre-eminent in all things; Jesus as the head of the church in whom the fullness of God dwells, reconciling all men to God through His blood to present all, including the Colossians, blameless before Him if they continue in the faith and Gospel of which Paul is a minister. Paul then rejoiced in his sufferings if they lead to what is lacking in the church, in which God has made known the mystery, Christ in the people of God, whom Paul proclaimed so as to present everyone mature before Christ (Colossians 1:24-29). Paul wanted not only the Colossians but also the Christians in Laodicea and Hierapolis to know how he wrestled for them so they might be comforted, bound in love, knowing the mystery of God in Christ, in whom all treasures of knowledge are hidden, so that they might not be deceived by others; Paul may be absent in the flesh but is present in spirit and rejoices in them (Colossians 2:1-5).

Paul then addressed either a pressing situation in Colossae or provided warnings regarding situations which might arise (Colossians 2:6-23). He exhorted them to walk and be rooted in Christ, in whom the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily, who is the head of all authority, and not deceived by worldly philosophies based in the elemental spirits of the world (Colossians 2:6-10). In Christ the Colossian Christians received a circumcision not of hands, buried in baptism, and raised in Him through the working of God (Colossians 2:11-12). The Colossians had been dead in trespasses; God made them alive together with Jesus: the bond written in ordinances against us was nailed to the cross, and on the cross Jesus disarmed the principalities and powers and triumphed over them (Colossians 2:13-15). Therefore the Colossians were not to be condemned regarding Jewish festival days which are a shadow of what is bodily true in Jesus (Colossians 2:16-17). The Colossians must not be robbed of their prize by those puffed up by visions who advocate various forms of asceticism which provide no benefit against the temptations of the flesh (Colossians 2:18-23).

Paul continued with ethical exhortations (Colossians 3:1-4:6; cf. Ephesians 4:1-6:9). The Colossians were to seek the things that are above, putting to death the members and passions of the flesh on earth; wrath will come because of disobedience; the Colossians ought no longer lie to each other, but to put on the new man in Christ, where there cannot be national or ethnic distinctions made any longer (Colossians 3:1-11). The Colossians were to put on the characteristics of Christ manifest in the fruit of the Spirit; forgiving each other, loving each other, living in Christ’s peace, allowing the word of Christ to dwell in them, singing, doing all in Jesus’ name, giving thanks to God through Him (Colossians 3:12-16; cf. Ephesians 5:17-21). Paul then provided specific instruction to husbands, wives, parents, children, masters, and slaves (Colossians 3:17-4:1; cf. Ephesians 5:22-6:9). The Colossians were to continue to pray in thanksgiving and also for Paul and his associates; they were to walk in wisdom, redeem the time, and speak as seasoned with salt (Colossians 2:4-6).

Paul concluded the letter with greetings and messages for specific people (Colossians 4:7-18): Tychicus and Onesimus would inform them of Paul’s affairs; the Jewish Christians laboring with Paul greeted them; Epaphras, Luke, and Demas greeted them; they were to greet the church in Laodicea, who also received a letter, and they should read the letters sent to the other; Archippus was to accomplish his ministry; Paul concluded with a greeting in his own hand.

While Colossians was in transit, or soon after it arrived, the great earthquake would change everything for Colossae. Nevertheless, in Colossians we get a glimpse of the fruit of the good work of Epaphras and important exhortations for Christians of all time. We do well to heed Paul’s message to the Colossians, be rooted and walk in Christ, established in our faith, and obtain the prize of the resurrection!

Ethan R. Longhenry

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