I’m studying through the book of Colossians because I plan to teach through the book during the month of March (and the first Sunday in April). So far, I’ve written these posts in the series:
The beginning of the study
Salutation (author, recipients, greeting)
Prayer Part 1
Prayer Part 2
Jesus’ preeminence over creation
Jesus’ preeminence over the church
Paul’s service for the gospel
Contrasting Christ with human wisdom Part 1
Contrasting Christ with human wisdom Part 2
Contrasting Christ with human wisdom Part 3
Contrasting Christ with human wisdom Part 4
Exhortation to put off an earthly way of life
Exhortation to put on Christ as a new way of life
Exhortations about family relationships
Exhortations about prayer and outsiders
Travel plans, greetings, and final exhortations
After reading through the letter of Colossians as a whole and studying verse by verse in detail, I want to offer a few observations concerning Paul’s letter to the believers in Colossae.
As with all his letters to churches, Paul addressed this letter to the entire church – all the believers who live in Colossae. (Note: Even the letter to Philippians which includes overseers and deacons in the address was addressed to the entire church in Philippi.) (Second Note: Even the letter to Philemon was addressed to a group of believers.) This letter was probably written 5-10 years after Paul had been in Ephesus, which is when the gospel was probably spread to Colossae. In that time, it is likely that there were leaders in the church in Colossae. But Paul did not address his letter to them. Nor did Paul give specific instructions for them. While leaders are mentioned in a few letters, Paul always addresses his concerns and instructions to the entire church.
Paul presents the person and preeminence of Christ (Colossians 1:15-23) as the basis of his own thanksgiving and hope for the Colossians, the foundation of his teachings and exhortations in the letter, and as the reason and power for his ministry (service). While Paul emphasizes the historical death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, he also emphasizes the continued presence and indwelling of Christ for the Colossians. For Paul, Jesus Christ was not simply a historical figure; he was present.
Paul did not consider it boastful or arrogant to present himself and his service as an example to the Colossians. (Note: Paul does this in many, if not all, of his letters.) This personal example is especially interesting in Colossians, because the believers in Colossae had never met Paul. This tells us alot about 1) Paul’s reputation among the church at that time, and 2) the communication and interaction between the churches in various churches.
Throughout this letter, we see that Paul understands spiritual growth (maturity) and “producing fruit” as the normal outcome of the gospel. Those who are in Christ (and who therefore have Christ in them) naturally (or supernaturally) grow in Christ and with one another. Similarly, they naturally reflect Christ to others in their words and actions such that the gospel continues to the spread. This “work” is a combination of the toil and struggle of the disciples and the power, ability, and energy provided by God. (See Colossians 1:29 for a good example of this.)
Paul knew that human wisdom, traditions, philosophies, and rules and regulations would sound very appealing – whether these came from the world’s religions or simply from “secular” sources. During times of struggle and persecution (especially) the Colossians would be likely to turn back to the more palpable and comfortable ways of their old life. Instead of providing more rules and regulations (even Christian rules and regulations), Paul continually pointed them to Jesus Christ.
All of the exhortations (in the long teaching section) are provided as examples of living in Christ – not as a means of living in Christ. From the beginning of the letter, Paul expressed confidence that the Colossians were already “in Christ” (brothers and sisters, holy, faithful, etc.). (Note: This is even more clear in a letter like 1 Corinthians where the recipients were NOT demonstrating Christ even though Paul continually proclaimed that they were in Christ.)
The Colossians were responsible for themselves, their own actions, and their own attitudes, and they were also responsible for one another. The new life in Christ is demonstrated both internally (sexual immorality, impurity, lusts, anger…) as with as corporately (forgiving one another, kindness, peace…). Someone not demonstrating these kinds of characteristics are also demonstrating that they are not walking in Christ (living in Christ, putting on Christ). As Christ indwells the Colossians, they can’t help but impact one another’s life.
There are many other observations that could be made about Colossians. What would like to add?
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Alan Knox is a PhD student in biblical theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and a web developer. His interests include PHP and ecclesiology. His dissertation topic is the purpose of the gathering of the church in the New Testament. By God’s grace, he tries to live what he is learning about the church.
He writes about how our understanding of the church affects (or should affect) the way the we live our lives among other brothers and sisters in Christ. He's found that many aspects of our understanding of church (gathering, leading, teaching, etc.) are woven together such that it’s almost impossible to focus on only one aspect.
Find out more on his website, The Assembling of the Church.