(The Epistle to the Colossians was dealt with in the March, 2003 issue of the Believers Magazine, with a good chart that had been prepared by Mr Andrew Borland. This chart was different in layout from that which has become the norm, and requests have been made that a chart in the usual format should be printed. Not only the form but also the detail in the chart differ. Ed.)
The city of Colosse was situated approximately 100 miles east of Ephesus, near to Laodicea on the Lycus river, in what was then known as Asia, and today is known as Turkey. It appears that Paul had never met the Colossian saints (2.1) although this did not prevent him having a caring and prayerful interest in them. It is probable, however, that the gospel came to this city when Paul was at Ephesus (Acts 19) and therefore indirectly he may have been involved in the planting of the assembly. Some years later, when writing to Philemon, he expresses his wish to travel there (Philem v.22).
Of the believers there, apart from Philemon himself, a wealthy man, we know the name of his wife, Apphia, his son Archippus (Philem vv.1-2), and his runaway slave who had been saved, Onesimus. Epaphras, a fellow worker with Paul in Rome when he wrote the Colossian epistle, a man of prayer and a servant of Christ, was also from this city (4.12).
THE CAUSE OF THE LETTER
False teachers who, under the guise of piety, were introducing serious errors had attacked the saints at Colosse. Their claim to be able to reach higher spiritual heights than Pauls gospel allowed was based on their false humility, their "neglecting of the body" (2.23), and their outward show of fake piety. It was the introduction of a religion which may have borne the title "Christian" but was worldly, sensual, and dishonouring to the Lord Jesus.
Domestic and Commercial Issues
The message of the gospel reaches into every compartment of life. The duties of husbands and wives, children and parents (3.18-21), and the responsibilities of masters and servants (3.22-4.1) are all addressed. The appeal to do everything heartily is one to which all saints should respond with conviction. An unwilling, lazy worker is a shame on the testimony.
There appears to be a problem with Archippus (4.17). He does not seem to be as active in the assembly as he had been previously. Just think, this letter was to be read to the assembly publicly, and also to the assembly at Laodicea! How would Archippus feel if he was present and heard mention of his name?
THE CENTRAL THEME OF THE LETTER
The answer to the errors which were being taught was centred on the Lord Jesus Christ. As always, He is the answer. In Him "all fullness" dwells (1.19), "In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (2.3), and, "In him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead" (2.9). It is still true that if we are wrong in our teaching regarding the Lord, we are wrong in everything.
THE CONTENTS OF THE LETTER
The power of the gospel 1.1-2.3
The opening chapter emphasises the power of the gospel which had been believed by the Colossians. They had a past which had to be remembered (1.3-8). They had been marked by faith, love, and hope, because they had believed the word of the truth of the gospel. It had brought forth fruit in them since the day they had believed it. Their experience proved the truth of what had been preached among them initially. But they also are reminded of the prayer which had to be considered (1.9-13). Spiritual progress would not come from the false teachers, but from what Paul taught. Added to this there is the pre-eminence which must be guarded (1.14-23). Any attempt to have others share, or even come close to the pre-eminent position of the Lord, any teaching which suggests that others are to be worshipped, strikes directly at the Lord. Thus there is the preaching that has to be maintained (1.24-29). Paul warned and instructed through this preaching with the power given by the Lord.
The perversion of the gospel 2.3-3.4
How does Paul describe the evil which was being introduced? It was coming in through enticing words (2.4). It sounded so persuasive and pious. Let all beware. Do not take into account the manner of the teacher but rather consider his matter. It is not how the teacher preaches but what he preaches which is vital. The Colossians were being lead astray by the beguiling speech of these men. It was based on philosophy (2.8), or the love of human wisdom founded on purely worldly principles. It exalted religious practices (2.16) which were not scriptural, for men love to add to the gospel. It involved mysticism (2.18), the worship of angels and dabbling in the spirit world. Note that this is the opposite of divine revelation. They were claiming that they had experiences, visions etc. Let all today beware of looking into this and claiming that it has produced more power in His service. Some extreme forms of Pentecostalism have gone down this road.
These were all things that were being added to the gospel. The error of Colosse abounds today in many forms where human institutions and forms of "worship" are found. The structure, liturgy, and organisations around us, their "holy days" and annual seasons would all have found favour with these errorists who sought to corrupt the assembly at Colosse. The religious world has honed these systems over centuries, and the pageantry that goes with them only increases the appeal to the flesh. Need the warning be given? Stay clear and continue to enjoy the scriptural simplicity of New Testament belief and practice.
The practice of the gospel - 3.5-4.6
This message touches every area of life, domestic duties, commercial activities, and evangelical responsibilities. This is the gospel in practice in everyday life, and a gospel which does not touch and change this is no gospel. Domestically, a husband has to love his wife and not to behave harshly to her, perhaps blaming her for the restrictions which family life may be perceived (wrongly) to bring. Children must obey their parents, but fathers must be careful not to embitter their children by the imposition of over-exacting commands and fault finding which causes them to lose heart.
Servants will obey their masters, not only when the master is present, doing so because they recognise that their work is for the Master and not only for men. The master will be righteous and honest in his dealings with his employees.
Christians should have the happiest homes, be the best of employees, and the most fair and caring employers. In an age when it is difficult to get people to listen to the gospel there is a grand opportunity to proclaim it by how we live. The world may not listen to preached messages but cannot avoid seeing living messages.
The persons living out the gospel - 4.7-18
The example of others is useful in a number of ways. It can act, first, as an encouragement to the faltering. The contrasts between Archippus (4.17) and Tychicus (4.7), Onesimus, the returning runaway slave (4.9) and Epaphras (4.12) are very marked. Does this not cause us to stop and consider? What would be said of me if there had to be read to the saints heavens assessment of my spiritual condition and my work in the local assembly. The work with which Archippus was charged had not been received from the brethren, but from the Lord, and such a work cannot be neglected. Keep in mind, however, that this was more an encouragement to go on than a censure. Even if, as some suggest, Archippus was expected to be absent when the letter was read, being advised of the exhortation should have had the effect of stirring him up.
Second, the example of others can confirm what they preach. Compare the "enticing words", "vain deceit", and "tradition of men" with the faithful godliness of Tychicus, the change in the life of Onesimus, the labour and prayers of Epaphras, and the life of Luke the beloved physician, and it will be understood that the gospel Paul preached was not held only by him; it had changed the lives of many. Its truth was confirmed by its effect on those who embraced it. May it also be so with us!