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The Believer and the Bible (9): Study of a Book - Colossians

G Hutchinson, Belfast

The study of Scripture is a lifelong privilege and responsibility.

In the context of the Epistle to the Colossians, this article suggests some pointers that may help us to "rightly divide the word of truth" (2 Tim 2.15).

STUDY THE SETTING

Before tackling a book, it is worth standing back and asking a few questions. Who was used to write the book? Where was the writer based? What is the main purpose of the book?

Author: On this occasion, the writer is the Apostle Paul (1.1,23; 4.18). Note references to his importance (1.1), intercessions (1.9), insight (1.25) and imprisonment (4.3,18).

Background: Colosse was located in Asia Minor (around 100 miles east of Ephesus). The area was rich in mineral deposits, but Paul points to a more abiding wealth in Christ (2.3). Opponents sought to peddle false teaching – denying the deity of Christ, the worship of angels, and the return to Judaism. The epistle was written to counteract these errors.

Comparisons: The style and content of Colossians is similar to Ephesians (both were written around the same time, 4.7-8; Eph 6.21). As someone has said, "In the Ephesians, the Church is the primary object and the thought passes upward to Christ as the Head. In Colossians, Christ is the primary object, and the thought passes downward to the Church".

SETTLE ON A STRUCTURE

Every book of Scripture has its own internal structure. Three Rs help unravel the divisions: READ (go through the book in one sitting); RE-READ (go through the book several times with different translations); RESEARCH (see what others think of the book and how it hangs together). With regard to Colossians, note the:

Twofold Division. The four chapters of the epistle divide neatly into two: doctrinal (chs.1–2), where the major theme is to present the foundations of the Christian faith, and practical (chs.3-4), with an outline of the personal and corporate responsibilities of the believer. All activity in the Christian life must have a solid Biblical foundation and we must also combine knowledge with action.

Threefold Division. The epistle can also be divided into three. The first part (1.1-2.7) enables the reader to discern Christ — the unique and incomparable Saviour who is at the heart of the gospel. The second part (2.8-2.23) asks the reader to defend Christ — particularly against other views that are contrary to Scripture. The final part (3.1—4.18) equips the reader to display Christ — applying practical exhortations that help manifest the Saviour.

SCRUTINISE THE SECTIONS

Having grasped the overall structure, the next step is to dive into the detail! Using just one example (of many) consider how the believer is exhorted, in 3.1-17, to:

Put First. Our ambition should be to "seek" that which is spiritual and eternal (3.1-4 – note the reference to "seek" in Mt 2.13 which indicates that this is not something that will be casual or incidental). The present tense also indicates that this is something that the believer should do on a continual basis.

Put Off. Believers need to maintain holiness in their Christian lives (3.5-9). We are to discard immoral living as we would a stained garment, and live in a manner consistent with our profession of salvation.

Put On. The Christian is also called to display the "new man" (3.10-14). The order of the various attributes mentioned in the passage is an indication that this is an "inside out" transformation (vv.12-13), with love as the ultimate overcoat (v.14)!

Put Right. In an epistle emphasising the supremacy of Christ, the saints are to maintain happy fellowship by upholding the "peace of Christ" (3.15, RV), the "word of Christ" (3.16), and the "name" of Christ (3.17).

SPOT THE SUBJECTS

Each book has particular themes, and the careful reader will seek to pinpoint and develop their significance. Some examples are presented below which encourage us to be:

Thankful. Almost the introductory words of the Apostle are to express thankfulness (to God) for the saints at Colosse (1.3). An "attitude of gratitude" remains an important characteristic of godly saints (3.15-17; 4.2).

Faithful. The Apostle commends the saints at Colosse for their faithfulness (1.2). This was a general characteristic of the assembly, but it was also evident with certain brethren (1.7; 4.7,9). Faithfulness to God and His Word is vital for all believers.

Prayerful. Developing a healthy prayer life is another subject central to the epistle, with Paul and his companions leading by example (1.3,9). Before concluding, the Apostle exhorts his readers to adopt the same dependency upon God (4.2) and, in so doing, they will follow the example of Epaphras (4.12).

SEE THE SAVIOUR

The Lord Jesus is the central theme of Scripture (Lk 24.27). Readers must therefore "look for the Lord" in their Bible study. In Colossians, the Lord can be located:

In Person. The epistle includes one of the most important declarations on the deity of Christ (1.14-20). Note the exposition of His character and marvel at His uniqueness and love.

In Picture. False teachers sought a return to circumcision, but Paul was clear that Christians had already undergone a spiritual circumcision in Christ (2.11). Water baptism also pictures our burial and resurrection with Christ (2.12).

In Principle. To "put on" the new man, with the associated attributes (3.12-14), is an exhortation to display Christ. For example, the opening to the section describes the believer as "elect", "holy" and "beloved" (terms that can be applied to the Saviour: cp Is 42.1; Lk 1.35, Lk 3.22).

In Precept. The Apostle exhorts the saints to allow the "word of Christ" to dwell within them (3.16). This refers to the teachings of Christ and the importance of allowing them to guide and influence our attitude and actions.

In People. Epaphras, a local saint and one who visited Paul (1.7-8; 4.12), was described as a "servant of Christ". These and the other believers were men of God who displayed Christ (one even carried the name "Jesus" but he used a second name to differentiate himself from the Lord, 4.11).

To be continued.

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