Colossians 1 (day 1108) 12 January 2013
Colossae was situated on the Lycus River in southwest Asia Minor (Turkey), about 100 miles east of Ephesus. So far as we know Paul did not start the church there and never visited it (although the comment in 2:1 may simply be a reference only to latecomers in the church at Colossae.) Some commentators believe it was the hometown of Philemon because at the end of the letter Paul says he is sending Onesimus there (4:9), but of course it is impossible to know whether it might be the same Onesimus mentioned in his letter to Philemon.
The reason for the letter is to head off a developing heresy which has been brought to Paul’s attention, perhaps by Epaphras (who is mentioned at 1:7 and 4:12). The authorship of the letter has been called into question by those who believe the vocabulary is not authentically Pauline, but I see no damage our understanding or interpretation of it if we take the letter to be from Paul’s hand.
The letter contains few hints that might help us locate Paul’s whereabouts when it was written.
1-2: A typical greeting, purporting to be from Paul and Timothy (as is the case in 2 Corinthians, Philippians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians).
3-8: First, he gives thanks to God for their faith, as reported to him by Epaphras who apparently was one of the leaders in, and perhaps even the founder of, the church in Colossae.
9-14: We see in this paragraph the first hints of the heresy mentioned above: Paul emphasizes his desire that they have spiritual wisdom and understanding and lead lives worthy of the Lord, and that they be strong in the faith and prepared to endure “everything with patience.” Verse 13 is the only occurrence of the phrase, “the power of darkness.” This initial section of greeting, from verse 3 to verse 14, is more protracted than in any others of Paul’s letters.
15-20: He emphasizes now the divinity of Christ, that “in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,” leading scholars to speculate that the heresy brewing in Colossae may have had to do with a denial that Christ was God’s Son.
21-23: Next, Paul emphasizes the humanity of Christ, that he died and that his death resulted in the reconciliation of believers to God, leading scholars to speculate that the heresy brewing in Colossae may have had to do with a denial that Christ was truly human and therefore did not really suffer death.
24-29: He wants them to understand that his mission, his burning desire, is to bring Gentiles to faith, a mature faith, in Christ.
Colossians 2 (day 1109) 13 January 2013
1-7: Laodicea was some ten miles down the river from Colossae. The churches in Colossae, Laodicea and Hieropolis (5 miles across the Lycus River valley from Laodicea) were close and had much in common. Paul says he is struggling for them but the nature of the struggle is not specified. Perhaps he is struggling for his freedom in Rome so that he can visit them. He is obviously concerned that they might be led astray by “plausible arguments,” and encourages them to continue just as they were taught.
8-15: His concern about false teachings is amplified in verse 8. He cautions them to guard against philosophy which he sees as an enemy of faith, against the “empty deceit” of those who promise what they cannot deliver, against human tradition that nullifies the law and the will of God, and against “the elemental spirits of the universe,” probably a reference to pagan beliefs in demons and such. He now refers to faith as “a spiritual circumcision,” making us wonder if the so-called circumcision party was active in Colossae as well as Philippi. Faith, expressed in baptism, is a kind of death, he says, out of which we are resurrected with Christ into freedom from the law.
16-19: A number of issues are mentioned here over which the Colossians are apparently jousting with religious peddlers: dietary restrictions, observance of holy days, self-abasement, angel worship and vision mongering. Hold on to Christ, he says, and don’t be distracted by false teachings.
20-23: The Colossians have apparently been impressed by some who are teaching strict religious practices based on the idea that certain human-made things are holy. They’re not, says Paul.
Colossians 3 (day 1110) 14 January 2013
1-4: Faith in Christ causes us to seek the things that are above; that is, to seek what is God’s will and God’s way. This seeking will culminate in Christ being revealed, or made known – and by this Paul can only mean the return of Christ. When that takes place his followers will also be made known and will participate with him in glory – the future glorious reign of Christ when all things will be made new. I think that is a fair representation of Paul’s meaning here.
5-11: Paul believed that committing oneself to following Christ meant automatically that one would cease doing those things that are not pleasing to God – the things of the flesh, as he would say. Faith in Christ results in a renewal of a person’s character. Sin and sinful attitudes are laid aside. Barriers between races, nationalities and classes are erased.
12-17: The ideal Christian community is described, based on that harmony that results when people live and act out of love and mutual respect for one another.
18-19: Likewise, husbands and wives are to let love be the guide in their relationship – wives, with “fitting” subjection (that is, within the context of the prevailing culture) and husbands with loving regard.
20-4:1: The same mutual respect and loving treatment should be applied in other relationships as well: children and parents, slaves and masters. The general rule is to treat others the way you would treat Jesus Christ.
Colossians 4 (day 1111) 15 January 2013
2-4: Typically, Paul ends with some general instructions and encouragement and asks for prayers for himself and his companions.
5-6: There is also concern for how outsiders view Christians and the church, so he cautions the Colossians in their behavior toward them. Verse 6 does not refer to what we today term “salty speech” of course, but rather to the kind of discourse that has been preserved through faithfulness. In other words, don’t let anyone lead you astray from the gospel you have been taught.
7-9: He is sending Tychicus and Onesimus to them. This is likely that same Onesimus who is the subject of Paul’s letter to Philemon.
10-14: He sends greetings from Mark, Jesus Justus, Epaphras, Luke and Demas. Mark and Justus are the only Jewish Christians with him, he says; the others are Gentile Christians. Mark, whom he identifies here as a cousin of Barnabas, may be that John Mark about whom Paul and Barnabas had a falling out (see Acts 15:37-39), and who is mentioned a number of time as one of Paul’s closest companions. He is included in the letter to Philemon, along with Demas, Epaphras and Luke. That lends credence to the idea that Onesimus, mentioned in verse 9 above, is indeed the slave of Philemon. Jesus Justus is not mentioned anywhere else. Epaphras was named earlier (1:7) and is here identified as one of them, that is, a Colossian. Luke is thought to have been the author of the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. Paul had some kind of falling-out with Demas (see 2 Timothy 4:10), but, whatever the cause of the rift between them, it was apparently healed because Demas is named again in Philemon (1:24) as a loyal companion. All of these connections demonstrate how dynamic and connected the church had become throughout the northern Mediterranean world during the lifetime of Paul.
15-17: Final greetings and instructions: We do not know whether Paul ever visited the church in Laodecia: it is only mentioned in Colossians and Revelation (1:11 and 3:14), but was within a dozen miles of Colossae and so communication between the two congregations would have been expected. Nympha is named only here; I think it is logical to assume that she was the hostess of the little congregation that had been started in Hieropolis, which was only just across the valley from Laodicea. There is a hint in verse 16 that there was also a letter from Paul to the Laodiceans; if so, it has been lost. The mention of Archippus is the best evidence we have that Philemon was indeed part of the congregation in Colossae, because Archippus is greeted also in the letter to Philemon (1:2). The charge to him in verse 17 may indicate that he was the one Paul expected to support his request to Philemon that Onesimus not be punished.
18: Several of Paul’s letters contain this epilogue (1 Corinthians 16:21, 2 Thessalonians 3:17, Philemon 1:19).