Today we will consider Paul’s letter to the Colossians. This letter was written around the same time as the circular letter known as the letter to the Ephesians, and there is considerable crossover in themes. It appears that Paul sent this letter with Tychicus along with that letter (4:7-8, see Eph 6:21-22). This letter, however, was written by Paul to a church he did not plant. He wrote it specifically because there was false teaching within the church.
Paul (and Timothy) send the usual greeting to the church (1:1-2). Paul compliments them for their great faith (vv. 4-6). They apparently heard the Gospel from Epaphras (v. 7). Paul heard about them from him (v. 8), as we was apparently being detained like Paul (see Phil 23). So Paul has been praying for the Colossian church since Epaphras told him about them (v. 9). He has been praying that they would walk in a manner worthy of their calling (v. 10 – see Eph 4:1), since they have been redeemed from from the deceit of the powers of darkness (v. 13 – see Eph 2:11-13).
Paul now speaks of the supremacy of Christ. He does this to counter the false teaching that had infiltrated the church in Colossae. It is through Christ alone that we are saved (v. 14). He is the eternal God (v. 15) Who created everything, including the angels (v. 16). He sustains all things (v. 17). He is the head of the church (v. 18). He is fully God, yet took on flesh to save us (v. 20), indeed, to save the Colossians (vv. 21-22) as long as they do not stray from the pure Gospel (v. 23).
Paul tells them that his sufferings are Christ sufferings (v. 24). Paul is suffering so that they (the body) don’t have to. This is because he was called as the Apostle to the Gentiles (v. 25) to reveal the mystery (see Eph 3:6-11, Rom 16:25-26) of the inclusion of the Gentiles in His salvation (vv. 26-27). Paul wants them, like those he wrote the letter to the Ephesians to, to be mature in their understanding of Christ (v. 28) and the mystery of their salvation (2:1-3). If they are mature in these things, they will not be led astray by false teaching (v. 4) but will be firm in their faith (v. 5) and live holy lives of faith (vv. 6-7). They need to be careful not to buy into false teaching that is contrary to what they have learned in Christ (v. 8).
Once again, Paul points to Christ’s total sufficiency as the true God (v. 9). He was sufficient to save the Colossians (vv. 10-11, 13-14) and is sufficient to sanctify them to lead holy lives (v. 12) now that He has defeated the powers of darkness (v. 15). The Colossians need to let God, then, determine what living a holy and righteous life is. They cannot be discouraged by false teachers. It appears there were quite a few false teachings in the church. First, they cannot be discouraged by the Judaizers (vv. 16-17). This is because the whole Law was given to point us to Christ (v. 17). Second, they cannot be discouraged by the Gnostics (vv. 18-19) who believed in a pantheon of heavenly beings and God’s continuing revelation through visions and special knowledge. Third, they cannot buy into the doctrines of the Docetists (possibly also Gnostics) who believed that Christ did not really come in the flesh because the physical is inherently evil and contrary to God’s design (vv. 20-21). Their insistence on not indulging the flesh doesn’t keep them from doing so (v. 23).
Now Paul tells them what they need to do. Since they have been raised with Christ (see 2:12, Eph 2:6, Rom 6:5), they need to seek Christ (3:1-2 – see Matt 6:19-21). They have died to sin (v. 3, 9 – see Rom 6:2-7), and now live with Christ spiritually (v. 10), until the day He comes to resurrect them bodily (v. 4). They must then kill any remaining sin (v. 5) – the sin that Christ is coming to judge (v. 6). They used to walk in these sins (v. 7 – see Eph 2:1-3), but now must now put away things like anger, obscene talk, and deceit (vv. 8-9 – see Eph 4 25-32). This applies to all God calls: Jew and Greek, slave and free, because there is no difference among God’s spiritual people (v. 11 – see Gal 3:28-29). They are to love one another and forgive one another as Christ has forgiven them (vv. 12-14 – see Eph 4:32). They are to live in unity (v. 15) and according to the Word of God (v. 16). They are to do all things for Christ’s sake (v. 17).
Like in the letter to the Ephesians, Paul transitions from doing what we do for Christ’s sake to the roles in the family (compare vv. 16-17 with Eph 5:19-21, and vv. 3:18-4:1 with Eph 5:22-6:9, and consider all we saw regarding those Ephesians passages).1 Paul then offers some final encouragements. He wants the Colossians to devote themselves to prayer (4:2-4). They should pray for themselves and for Paul and Timothy. They should be wise in their evangelism in the time they have (v. 5) speaking with words seasoned with salt (v. 6 – see Matt 5:13-16).
Paul tells them that Tychicus will tell them all that has been going on with him (vv. 7-8 – see Eph 6:21-22). With Tychicus, Paul is sending Onesimus who is from Colossae (v. 9). We will see in the letter to Philemon more about this Onesimus. Paul sends greetings to the Colossians from many of his companions with whom we are familiar from the book of Acts. Paul asks the Colossians to greet the church in Laodicea, and to share this letter with them, and to read the letter he sent them (likely the letter to the Ephesians) (v. 16). Paul ends with his own signature (v. 18).
1 I have often pictured Paul finishing the letter to the Ephesians, and then picking up another piece of paper and writing to the Colossians because the letters are so similar.