“I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake.”

Likely in a dark pit, chained to a guard, Paul uttered these words to a scribe. Pain, filth, turmoil and rejoicing? Most of us would be saying, “God, why have you abandoned me?” Not Paul; he saw an opportunity to serve Jesus.

Paul had met Christ on his way to kill Christians. Via a blinding light, scales on his eyes, and a vision, he became a Christ-follower. But it wasn’t Paul’s vision that gave him spiritual stamina. His fellow workers in the early church seem to be enduring similar circumstances (4:10–17). It was his dependence on a God who could not only overcome the visible forces of evil, but the unseen forces that lurked in the darkness.

While in prison in Rome, Paul had a scribe write down a message to the Colossians (compare 4:18). The scribe then gave the letter to Tychicus and a runaway slave named Onesimus to deliver it to the churches at Colossae and Laodicea (4:7–9). They also carried a second, personal letter requesting that Philemon, a leader in the church and the owner of Onesimus, free the fugitive slave.

The beginning of Colossians (1:1–2:5) tells us how we can be like Christ. We learn the theology necessary to fight evil and the practicality of loving Jesus. The focus of the first section of the opening of the letter is: Paul’s identity, why we should be thankful, and the need for prayer (1:1–14). Suffering is a battle for our souls and Christ can be the victor.

Christ is the center of Paul’s letter, and the focal point of every issue he addresses. Colossians tells us how we can make Christ the center of our lives too. The first eight weeks of our study will teach us what it means to join Christ in His victory over darkness.

Colossians 1:1–14 (ESV)

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father.

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. 11 May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

WEEK 1: Taste-Testing Colossians

Pray that God would reveal the message of Colossians to you.

Read all of Colossians in one sitting, out loud. This letter was meant to be read out loud; so we need to “hear” it, before we can interpret it (4:16). (Double underline transition words like ‘now,’ ‘therefore,’ ‘yet’ and ‘but,’ as well as negations like ‘no’ and ‘not.’)

Read all the verses again where these transition words are used. Right a short summary of each of these verses. What do these verses tell you about the general gist of the letter?

Now we have taste-tested Colossians—had a bit of an appetizer. But let’s get to the main course. The first step in doing so is to pray. The late scholar Brevard Childs once said to me, “Herein lies the secret of biblical interpretation: Wherever the Spirit is not present, there is no great explanation possible.” If you want to understand Paul’s letter, if you want to hear God, listen to the Spirit. Move Christ to the center of all you do.

Continue to reflect & pray through these questions throughout your week.

WEEK 2: The Main Course of Colossians

Pray that God would strengthen you through Christ and the Spirit.

Read all of Colossians in one sitting, out loud. This will allow you to see how the ideas Paul develops later in the letter are based upon what he says at the beginning. (Draw square brackets or a box around the words ‘first,’ ‘new,’ ‘light,’ ‘alive’ and ‘hidden.’)

Read out loud each of the lines with a key word in it. Who is at the center of Paul’s theology? (Who is he writing about?) Describe in four adjectives (description words) how Paul understands this character. How should Paul’s understanding of this character shape the way we look at the world?

What important events changed the world? How do these events affect our lives?

Last week, we taste-tested Colossians. Now we are beginning to digest our main meal: to get inside Paul’s head and understand his theology. When we combine this with prayer, we get an incredible result: theology shaped by our experiences—an understanding of God that is based (in part) in contemplation, prayer and practice. At the center of Colossians is the idea that our understanding of Christ directly reflects upon how we live: If we don’t understand Him, we can’t live like Him. Being like Christ means finding Christ everywhere—in all parts of life. Seeing Him in everything is a constant reminder that we need to show Him to others.

Continue to reflect & pray through these questions throughout your week.

WEEK 3: Colossians Is about Christ—and Our Actions in Him

Pray for the power to act on God’s calling every day—in every moment.

Read all of Colossians in one sitting, out loud. Reading a biblical book repeatedly helps us key in on phrases and ideas we would usually brush over. (Underline key verbs [action words] like ‘love,’ ‘hear,’ ‘thank,’ ‘put’ ‘pass,’ ‘pray,’ ‘give’ and ‘open.’)

Read out loud all the verses with key verbs. What message becomes clear when you do so? What would change about your life if you lived by all these verses? Keep in mind that it was not Paul’s intention to create a rulebook. Nonetheless, we can’t be at peace with one another if we don’t obey the God who created us.

Choose seven ideas Paul emphasizes that you can work on. Write a three-to-four-word summary of each idea. Each morning this week, pray about one of the seven ideas. Journal each night, even in just a few short sentences, how you implemented that idea throughout your day. How did it change your interactions with other people? How did it change your view of God? Imagine what our world would be like if we all lived the words of Colossians each day.

Continue to reflect & pray through these questions throughout your week.

WEEK 4: Adding ‘Saint’ to Your Resume

Pray that Christ would show you what it means to be a saint.

Read Colossians 1:1–2:5 in one sitting.

Reflect on Colossians 1:1–2.

Paul calls himself an ‘apostle.’ The apostles were Christ’s ambassadors. They carried out His ministry and teachings. But who is Paul an apostle of? How did he become an apostle? (Think about what Colossians says first, and then read Acts 8:1–25 and Acts 9:1–22.)

With whom is Paul writing his letter (Col 1:1)? Look up this individual in a concordance, or search for his name on Bible.Logos.com or in Bible software. What did you learn about him?

Who is Paul’s letter addressed to (Col 1:2)?

Colossians 1:2 talks about ‘saints.’ ‘Saint’ is a status given to you when you believe in Christ, not a status to be earned. It means “holy one.” All who believe in Christ have been made holy in His eyes. So, as Mark Driscoll once said, go add ‘Saint’ to your business card and resume.

What are the two things Paul wishes for the church at Colossae (Col 1:2)?

The title of ‘saint’ has been given to you freely through Christ’s grace. You can have peace through the Holy Spirit. How does this change your perspective? Since you are constantly representing Christ as His saint, how should your interactions with other people change?

Continue to reflect & pray through these questions throughout your week.

WEEK 5: From Slave to Brother

Pray that the Spirit would help you give thanks—even in trials.

Read Colossians 1:1–2:5 in one sitting.

Reflect on Colossians 1:3–8.

For whom is Paul thankful (Col 1:2–3)? Who does Paul thank? When is Paul thankful? Why is Paul thankful (Col 1:4–5)?

What have the Colossians “heard before” (Col 1:5)? What “has come” to the Colossians (Col 1:6)? What is “bearing fruit and growing”?

What do we learn about the Colossians’ relationship with God at the end of Col 1:6? This tells us what type of people Paul is addressing.

Who ministered to the Colossians and told Paul about them (1:7–8)? Did Paul personally know the Colossians, or does he only know them through “word of mouth”? Before drawing a conclusion, read the book of Philemon (especially Philemon 5 and 19). Remember, Philemon was part of the house church the letter to the Colossians was sent to; he was likely the host.

Paul was not only elderly and imprisoned (for his belief in Christ) when he wrote this letter, he was also in a difficult position: arguing for a close friend’s freedom from indentured slavery. Why was he so bold?

Christ has freed all of us. Paul was fighting a spiritual battle on all fronts, but he gave thanks in everything. Thanksgiving is the cure to bitterness and more often than not, depression. What can you be thankful for today? How could thankfulness change your outlook?

Continue to reflect & pray through these questions throughout your week.

WEEK 6: “I Have It Under Control.” Sure You Do

Pray that the Spirit would reveal God’s will for your life.

Read Colossians 1:1–2:5 in one sitting.

Reflect on Colossians 1:9.

Paul turns his focus from thanksgiving to prayer in Col 1:9. Prayer is a natural result of thanksgiving—thankfulness makes us stop focusing on ourselves, and start focusing on God.

What does Paul ask God for on behalf of the Colossians (1:9)?

How can you be “filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding”? (Read James 1:2–18 and 3:13–18.) Why do you need God’s wisdom? What areas of your life currently require godly discernment? What do you need to give up for Christ to be the center of these areas of your life—for Christ to take control?

Continue to reflect & pray through these questions throughout your week.

WEEK 7: Separation Anxiety: Separated from Christ, Separated from Joy

Pray that God would teach you to “walk” like Christ.

Read Colossians 1:1–14 in one sitting.

Reflect on Colossians 1:10–12.

What type of “walk” does God require of us (1:10)? What does it mean to “bear fruit”? (Read Gal 5:16–26 and Psa 1.) Colossians 1:11 echoes Gal 5:16–26. Which “fruit” is mentioned in both books? Why does Paul highlight these attributes?

Many times we think of “walking with Christ” as hard work, and it can be. But we are called to walk with Christ “with joy” (1:11). Someone who is joyful is optimistic about life because of what Christ has done for them, despite their circumstances (e.g., Paul in prison). Do you exude joy? Colossians 1:12 tells you how to have joy. Living “with joy” is tied to Christ’s ability to strengthen us “with all power” (Col 1:11). Once again, Christ is the center.

In what activities do you struggle to have joy? Work? Family? Friends? Church? How can more joy be brought to these areas of your life? How can Christ dwell in these activities?

Continue to reflect & pray through these questions throughout your week.

WEEK 8: From Darkness to Light

Pray that Christ would show you what it means to be redeemed.

Read Colossians 1:1–14 in one sitting.

Reflect on Colossians 1:13–14.

Who is the “he” in 1:13? Is it Jesus? God? Both? Before drawing any conclusions, think about the larger context of Col 1, and what it says about Christ’s relationship to God.

What areas of your life currently belong to the domain of darkness? Are you willing to let Christ’s “light” shine in them? Who do you know that can help you overcome them? Reach out to God, and reach out to them.

Spend the rest of the time you would usually spend studying Colossians to pray about ways God can help you overcome darkness in your life.

Continue to reflect & pray through these questions throughout your week.

God has shined His “light” in the “domain of darkness.” His light is Christ. He has moved us from where darkness reigns to where He reigns. The shadows will tremble. Darkness will try to hide.

“The image of the invisible God” came to earth so that we can visibly be like Jesus. No matter what pain, turmoil, or darkness you are flailing against, Christ can intervene. Christ can be victor in your life because He is already victorious over the earth, and all powers. May His power reign in your life. May the Holy Spirit work in you so that you can be like Jesus.

Want more out of your study of Colossians? Find the resources you need at Logos.com/Colossians

IN THE NEXT ISSUE

Eight more weeks about “being like Jesus.” In the next section of Colossians, Paul tells us about God’s Son before the world, our redemption through Him, and why no one has an excuse not to believe.


Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Logos Bible Software. Each issue of Bible Study Magazine provides tools and methods for Bible study as well as insights from people like John Piper, Beth Moore, Mark Driscoll, Kay Arthur, Randy Alcorn, John MacArthur, Barry Black, and more. More information is available at http://www.biblestudymagazine.com. Originally published in print: Copyright Bible Study Magazine (May–June 2010): pgs.20–23.