Resurrected Living
"What are you going to do with your new resurrected life? This is the heroic question." Richard Rohr

A Brief Overview of Colossians

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Paul’s letter to the Colossians is a letter written from prison (4:3) to a church he had never visited (2:1). The congregation’s leader and possible founder, Epaphras, (1:7) is now with Paul (4:12). Paul has learned of some problems the church is facing and he writes this letter to encourage them and guide them on the right track. Paul wants them to return to the things they learned from Epaphras, and continue to grow and live in Christ (2:6-7). It is important for them to understand that they have everything they need in Christ (1:15-20).

The theme of maturity runs throughout the entire letter. After the prescript (1:1-2) Paul enters into his report of prayers (1:3-29). He has been praying that they will “bear fruit in every good work” and “grow in the knowledge of God” (1:10). At the end of this report he once again returns to this theme and reminds the congregation that his purpose in preaching is “to present everyone mature in Christ” (1:28). At the end of the letter Paul writes that Epaphras is praying for this same outcome (4:12).

One of the reasons Paul and Epahpras may have been concerned about the maturity of this church is because of false teachers that were trying to lead them astray. All we know about these individuals is what we read in Paul’s letter. This makes it difficult to identify them. He describes their teaching as “philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ” (2:8). Their teaching also involved dietary regulations, special festivals, observance of the Sabbath, worship of angels, and visions (2:16-18). Scholars have had a difficult time identifying these false teachers in Colossae, and they have presented numerous theories as to who they were (Johnson 1999, 396). What one can be certain of is that their teaching stood in opposition to what Epaphras and Paul taught concerning Christ.

Christ is at the center of this letter. Paul wanted the recipients to know early on that they had everything they needed in Christ. In the middle of his report of prayers Paul presents a hymn-like meditation on Jesus (1:15-20). Before Paul addresses the false teachers he wants the church at Colossae to know the truth regarding Christ. He is already anticipating some of the false doctrines he is going to have to respond to later in the letter. He reminds the congregation who Christ is and what he has done. He wants them to know that Christ is the “image of the invisible God,” creator of all things, “head of the…church,” “firstborn from the dead,” and the one whom “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (1:15-20).

Once Paul has reminded them of Christ and dealt with the false doctrines he encourages them to live differently (2:20). He does this by reminding them of who they are and whom they belong to (3:1-4). Because they have been baptized with Christ (3:1) they are expected to live in a different way (3:5). This new way of life should change the way they interact with others (3:18-4:1). Paul spends most of this section discussing the relationship between slaves and masters (3:22-4:1), probably because of a situation in the church between Onesimus, a slave, and Philemon, a master. This situation is detailed in the letter to Philemon which accompanied the letter to Colossae. Onesimus along with Tychicus were bringing the letter from Paul to Colossae (4:7-9).

Although this letter seems personal at times it is a letter that Paul wanted the church at Colossae to share with others (4:16). It is a letter that focuses on the centrality of Christ (1:15-20), and the churches need to mature in him (1:28). It is also a letter that reminds Christians of their identity (3:1-4), and that this new identity demands a new standard of living (3:5-4:1). The letter to the Christians at Colossae is a message for all people of all ages.

Bibliography

Johnson, Luke Timothy. The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1999)

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