Lesson 21: Introduction to COLOSSIANS

Acts 16:5-8, 18:23, 19:9-10

Paul's Prison Epistles. This is lesson #21. An introduction to the book of Colossians. Don't forget Acts ch. 28 and Paul's circumstances at Rome in the imperial prison. We have already covered this in both Ephesians and Philippians. This letter, the book of Colossians, was undoubtedly writ­ten while Paul was connected to that same chain in that same prison (about AD 62). Therefore, Colossians is ANOTHER of Paul's prison epistles. Apparently all written within a few weeks of each other. Those soldiers connected to the other end of Paul's chain were changed every few hours; but, Paul's end didn't change. We covered a good bit of the circumstances that surrounded Paul as we covered Ephesians and Philippians. Therefore, we are going to pass by that quickly as we begin the Colossian letter. Psychologically, Paul was so well adjusted that although he was sitting bodily bound in bonds; his mind was upon the Lord Jesus Christ and the circumstances of his brethren. He did not wallow in self pity for one minute. In the case of his Colossian brethren (you should now have that book before you), the distance from Rome to Colossae was about 1000 miles the way the crow flies and much farther, I'm sure, the way those brethren traveled under big flapping sails that depended upon the force of the wind to make that trip.
     Why did Paul write this book? Who were these brethren? When were they baptized into Christ? Who taught them the gospel? When and how was the Colossian church established? What were the big dominating problems in that congregation? If we knew the answer to just a few of these questions; the book of Colossians would undoubtedly come alive and be much more meaningful to us. This book is another inspired writing nearly 2,000 years old and preserved for us through the Holy Spirit of God. Needless to say, it contains a great message for us. Now, what's the message? Well, shine up your detective badge and let's investigate. Are you ready? I suggested at the end of our last lesson that you do a quickie reading of Colossians before coming to this lesson. The book contains four chapters totaling 95 verses. It can be read in about 15 minutes. As a matter of fact, I just read it — slowly, with expression, out loud to myself. It took ME about 16 minutes. I suggest you take the time right now to turn the tape player off and read it again. Please read it ALOUD to your self, do this in private, pretending you are a member of the Colossian church, pretending this is the first time you have ever read it, and give special attention to the fact that these things apply to you personally. As a detective looks for fingerprints and traces the tracks in the sand, see what you can learn, see. what you can find. Start right now by pressing that little pause button on your tape player.
     O.K., have you finished? What did you learn? In the first verse you learned Paul was the writer. You learned Paul was an apostle of Jesus Christ. You learned that Paul also joined Timothy's name to this book. Paul, in v.2, tells us who he was writing to: "to the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colossae..." To say it another way, the apostle Paul wrote this message to Christians who lived in or near the city of Colossae. Saints and faithful brethren are not two separate categories. It's two ways of saying the same thing: a Christian, a member of Christ's church, i.e. to say: a baptized believer. Our text says they are "in Christ" (v.2). One is either "in Christ" or he is out of Christ, there's no middle ground. Mr/Mrs Detective, did you remember that Paul also used these same two identical terms (i.e. the "saints" and "the faithful") at the beginning of his Ephesian letter back in Ephesians verse one? Timothy was with Paul at the time of this writing. The same was true when the Philippian letter was written. He may even have assisted Paul in the task of preparing that scroll which was ultimately copied and translated into this book we know as the Colossian letter, we cannot be sure about that. The Colossian brethren either knew, or knew of Paul, and in a similar way, they knew (or knew of) Timothy also.
     Now, where was Colossae? If you have a good map of Asia Minor (what we call Turkey today), you will find Colossae in the western part. We have said before, Ephesus, that seaport town on the east side of the Aegean Sea (we discussed this in our introduction to Ephesians), that city where the temple of Diana was located, was the capital of a Roman province called (very simply): Asia, A-S-I-A. You need to take a moment and re-locate Asia and Ephesus on a good map. Most bibles have a few maps in the back. You might check for Asia Minor first. The Roman empire was made up of Roman provinces, very much like the United States is made up of states. To the east of the Roman province of Asia (where Ephesus was located) was an adjoining Roman province known as Galatia, a province that had several churches and we've talked about those churches before. However, many years before even those Roman provinces were created; there was a country located in this same region known as Phrygia; but, Phrygia no longer existed as a nation at the time we're talking about, i.e. at the time of Paul. Nevertheless, that territory which had once been Phrygia (that's spelled P-H-R-Y-G-I-A) had been conquered, divided and included in the Roman provinces of Asia and Galatia. Yet, that section of country on the Asia-Galatian border was still (at the time of Paul) commonly known and referred to as "Phrygia" even though it was not a Roman province as such. In other words, part of this section known as Phrygia was in the Roman province of Asia and part of the Phrygian section was in the Roman province of Galatia. You might keep in mind also, the borders of those Roman provinces probably shifted a little from time to time. Now, get this: Colossae (that city where the church was located in which Paul was writing in this letter) was located in Phrygia; but, in that section of Phrygia belonging to the Roman province of Asia (where Ephesus was the capital); however, the city of Colossae was very near to the Galatian border it would appear. Now, see if you can find this on your map? The city of Colossae was about 100 miles east of Ephesus and located on that-Roman road which connected western Asia Minor with the eastern part of the Roman empire and the Euphrates valley. This was a heavily traveled trade route. Colossae was also on the Lycus river which (very near by) emptied into the Meander river which in turn emptied into the Aegean Sea very near to Ephesus. These rivers and places you may find referred to by other names on other maps and in other books. All these names have changed over time. Alright, surely you have located Colcssae by now. If not, take the time to find it on your maps.

     Paul apparently did not establish the congregation at Colossae and it is not clear as to who did evangelize those parts of Asia Minor. Verse one of Colossians chapter two is usually interpret­ed to mean that Paul had never met the Colossian Christians face to face. Now, I take exception to that interpretation in that, that is not definitely said in the text. However, I will grant very quickly, that this very well MIGHT have been the case; because on the other hand, I know of nothing that proves Paul ever preached in Colossae or that in fact he was ever in that city. If you read between the lines a little (thought) in Acts 16:6, Paul, Silas and Timothy were apparently very close to Colossae sometime during the second missionary journey, if in fact they did not visit Colossae. On Paul's third missionary journey, the apostle went back over that same territory again (according to Acts 18:23), "strengthening the disciples" it says. Galatia and Phrygia are both mentioned in that verse. However, back in Acts 16:6, if you interpret the passage by strict terri­torial lines; it says Paul and his co-workers "were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia," at that time, i.e. in the province of Asia where Colossae (as well as Ephesus) were located. However, on the third missionary journey after Paul had gone over Galatia and Phrygia (Acts 18:23), it says in Acts 19:1 that "Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus..." Now, if you'll locate Galatia and Phrygia on your map and consider the natural direct­ion in which one would travel going from Phrygia to Ephesus and at the same time remember that we have already said Colossae was located on that great Roman road (obviously the main route and natural passage by which one would have traveled through this territory); it seems that Paul must. have at least passed through or at the least very, very near Colossae on that occasion. Exactly what is meant by "the upper coasts" in Acts 19:1 is not clear to me. Boles in his commentary explains this has reference to the highlands located in the more central part of Asia Minor. Some of the translators use words like: "upper country," "the inland districts," "the hinterland," [whatever that means! My dictionary say: "back country."]. One translation simply says, "Paul traveled over the hills to get to Ephesus." So, let me say clearly and expressly, I concede: no where in the New Testament does it say Paul ever visited Colossae. Thus, I cannot prove he was there. However, that does not establish with absolute certainty that Paul was not in Colossae some time or another. The question arises then, if Paul was never at Colossae; how did he know all these Colossian people? Several of them are mentioned: Epaphras (who Paul said was a Colossian, Col. 4:12), Onesimus (who Paul said was a Colossian, in Col. 4:9), Archippus (who apparently was a minister at Colossae, according to Col. 4:17) and that church met in Philemon's house (we find in the second verse of the letter to Philemon). Obviously, SOMEBODY baptized these people; possibly some of Paul's co-workers. One possibility, someone has suggested, is that while Paul was teaching in the school of one Tyrannus for two years there in Ephesus (Acts 19:9-10), only a 100 miles to the west; some of these brethren may have been Paul's students there that went back to their home­town of Colossae and started a congregation. We simply don't know. Also, we learn in Acts 2:10 that some of the Jews that came to Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost (the birthday of the church) were from Phrygia. As I said, we simply don't know who established the church in Colossae; but, that there was a church there, it is certain. Not only at Colossae; but, only 10 or 12 miles FROM Colossae were two other towns with churches also. One of those towns was Laodicea and the other was Hierapolis (this is established in Col. 4:13). The church at Laodicea was then meeting in the house of a man, named Nymphas (mentioned in Col. 4:15). This church at Laodicea is also referred to in the book of Revelation as one of the seven church of Asia (Rev. 1:4, 11). Jesus appeared to the apostle John and dictated a letter to the church at Laodicea, along with six other Asian churches [which did not include Colossae] about a generation later or some 30 years after the time that Paul wrote this letter that we are considering to the Colossians. That Laodicean letter, I mentioned, that Jesus wrote and sent to the church at Laodicea, in case you are interested, is recorded in Rev. 3:14- 22. Even though we don't know who it was, all three of these churches (Colossae, Laodicea and Hierapolis) were most likely started or evangelized by the same person or the same people.

This letter (we call Colossians) was undoubtedly carried from Paul in Rome to the Colossians by Tychicus and a slave named Onesimus (I conclude this from Col. 4:7-9). We learn more about Onesimus in the book of Philemon. Paul said, "they [i.e. Tychicus and Onesimus] shall make known unto you all things which are done here." Thus, these two men, Paul expected to explain his condit­ion in prison there at Rome and the circumstances surrounding all that, when they delivered this letter, we call Colossians. Do you remember Tychicus? This is undoubtedly the same man mentioned in Ephesians 6:21 which we concluded was the person who delivered the. Ephesian letter also. It is likely that Tychicus and Onesimus, on this same trip, carried at -east three of the letters we are covering in this course (Paul's Prison Epistles): Ephesians, Colossians and Philemon, apparently all written at the same time.

Now, why did Paul write this letter? Well, first of all, we can decipher enough from the book itself to give us a vague glimpse of some of their congregational problems. This book is quite different from Ephesians and Philippians, in that this book was written from a more elementary point of view. Thus, the Colossians were probably not as well grounded in the faith. The book more or less re-states the gospel. The book was written to Christians, i.e. persons "in Christ," we have said (in v.2 of ch. 1). Some of these persons "in Christ" were a little mixed up religiously, to put it mildly. Like so many people today, they must have been surrounded to the point of almost being devoured by "isms" stemming from tradition, experimental religion, astrology, and all kinds of pagan cultural philosophies and practices. Thus, they needed some real basic Christian guidance to help them sort it all out and thus develop a solid Christian perspective. Like so many people today, they were apparently a mild mannered people trying to accept and blend all those "isms" together, gullible enough to think that surely it can be reconciled in some way to not castigate anybody. Oh, they had been taught the gospel and baptized. Yes! But, there was a tendency, like today, to mix it all up. So, Paul was trying from his remote prison cell to review with them the solid meat and potatoes of the Christian faith, i.e. get them spiritually anchored into the real faith of Jesus Christ and His gospel. As I said, Paul more or less re-stated the basics of Christ­ian faith. Undoubtedly, you can see that such a re-statement of the gospel is needed just as much today as it was then. Therefore, the book of Colossians is just as beneficial to us, you see, as it was to them. We need grounding in the faith, we need the truth, basic spiritual nutritional principles involving the Christ of God on which to anchor our faith. In v.18 of ch. 2, Paul said, "Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind..." Sound familiar? They were obeying, i.e. "subject[ing themselves] to ordinances...after the commandments and doctrines of men..." (that's the end of 2:20, leaving out the parenthesis and reading that which follows (in v.22). Oh, some of those things can make one appear as a real intellectual. That's my translation of v.23 and many, many people succumb to that; thinking they are really hot stuff; when in fact they are not even CLOSE to obeying the gospel of Jesus Christ. How do you sort these things out? What are our real spiritual needs? How can we be a real servant of Jesus? How can we be spiritually prepared for Christ's second coming and the judgment? From that prison cell in rome, Paul was trying to impress the answer to these question on the Colossians. Have a good day.

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