As I have said (and will likely say again), I am excited to study Colossians with you. As we begin today, I hope you can see how important context is to studying God’s Word so that we hear from Him and not impress our own voices onto the Word.
When I think of this epistle, I am reminded of Martin Luther’s words when he talked about the book of Galatians: “The epistle to the Galatians is my epistle, to which I have wedded myself. It is my Catherine Von Bora [Luther’s wife].” My walk with Christ is similarly wed to Colossians. In a sense, it is my Candice. I have read and studied through Colossians many times over. I have preached through it twice. Every time I go through it, it impacts my life. And I know that I have barely scratched the surface because, the longer I walk with Christ and the more fix my eyes on Him in His Word rather than on the world around me, my worship of Him grows with my understanding.
When studying through a book of the Bible, it helps to have some background information for context. You do not have to be a Bible scholar to research this because there is ready access to the research already done by Bible scholars. Many study Bibles (the ESV Study Bible does a particularly good job with historical context and has a section for where each book of the Bible fits in God’s Story of redemption) have sections at the beginning of each book for context. Today, we will look at some things that jumped out at me when studying.
From Paul to the Colossians
The book of Colossians is technically a letter (or epistle, as you might see in your Bible). That is the category it falls into within the New Testament. It is one of the thirteen epistles written by the apostle Paul to cities where the gospel had been planted, the Holy Spirit had moved on people’s hearts so that they came to faith in Jesus, and a church had sprung up. In many of the letters Paul wrote to churches that are also books of the New Testament, Paul planted the churches himself or at least came to those towns with the gospel (Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, & Philippi), but he did not visit Colossae or plant the church there.
There are different theories as to how exactly the church at Colossae was planted, but the general consensus is that it was planted by their pastor at the time of Paul’s writing – a guy named Epaphras. Epaphras likely heard the gospel when Paul was preaching in Ephesus (Acts 19:8-10), which was about 120 miles away from Colossae. And, basically, he got saved, came home to Colossae, and told others the good news – the gospel – about Jesus that he had heard and believed. Naturally, as the only one that people in Colossae had heard preach, Epaphras was the perfect candidate to lead as their pastor.
This is one of the aspects of Colossians that I love the most because it shows the future of the church beyond the era of the apostles – our era. I am often intimidated by the faith and spiritual gifts of the apostles. I know they had a special gifting that was specific to their being apostles (Acts 1:20-26, 1 Corinthians 15:8-11), but Epaphras was just a regular guy. He was a sinner in need of a Savior who heard the gospel preached. He responded in faith and repentance, put his trust in Christ as Savior and Lord, and went about “proclaim[ing] the excellencies of Him who called [him] out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). He experienced what every saved person experiences. He did what every saved person should be doing. He gives us an example in following Christ and gives us hope because we see that God’s Spirit really does work through every-day people.
Not only was Epaphras someone we can relate to, but Colossae was relatable, too. Colossae was
“at the crossroads of two well-traveled highways: one that ran east and west, connecting the coastal cities of Ephesus (120 miles to the west) and Sardis with the interior east; and another running north and south. When, however, the latter road was moved west to pass through Laodicea, Colossae began to decline. In Paul’s day it was not as large or important as the neighboring cities of Laodicea (twelve miles to the west) or Hierapolis (fifteen miles northwest).”
It was not so different than many towns I have visited in my home state of Mississippi where once-thriving towns that boomed during the eras of buggy or railroad travel wilted when the interstate was built a few miles away from the highways of old. In fact, there are reminders all over the town where I live that point to prosperous times that have long since been in the past. For these reasons, historians have decided that Colossae was less important than other places. You may have decided that your town or community is less important than other places. But, if God has brought the gospel to your town – through regular, every-day people like you and me, that sounds important, and there is important work still to be done!
While that bit of history is interesting – or not if you do not like that sort of thing, the book of Colossians is not about Paul – or Epaphras – or Colossae. It is about Jesus. And just like it was for the Colossian church who received this letter, many of us and our churches today have lost track of Jesus. We have taken our eyes off of Him and allowed things of lesser-importance to eclipse our view of Him who is of the utmost importance.
“in Christ at Colossae”
One the themes we will see in Colossians, definitely the most important, is that “Jesus Christ is preeminent over all creation, Lord over all human rulers and cosmic powers” (1:15-20, 2:9-10, 3:1). It would be easy to say that the church at Colossae had forgotten about Jesus, but they had never been fully taught about Him. They did not have the Bible like we do today. Epaphras had the gospel, and the gospel is “of first importance” (1 Corinthians 15:3). But believers need the whole of Scripture to be healthy and grow into grown Christians. Without feasting on the whole thing, we stay spiritual babies with sippy cup theology when we need theology that requires a fork and knife – that can be chewed on (Hebrews 5:12-13). This is not to say that we do not need milk – the basic truths of Scripture – because we absolutely do; we should thirst for “the pure spiritual milk” like infants but hunger for the deeper things – “if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Peter 2:2-3). So, after Epaphras visited Paul in prison and told him how he hoped that the Colossian believers would “stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God” (4:12-13), we see Paul teach them fuller and deeper truths about Jesus and build on the gospel that Epaphras brought home (1:7-8).
We benefit from Paul’s writing, too. Colossians teaches so much about Jesus and has had an impact vastly bigger than its four chapters. It proclaims “Christ celebrated as the object of the believer’s faith, the image of the invisible God, the creator of all dominions, the head of the church, the firstborn from the dead, the unifier and reconciler of all things, the Savior through his sufferings on the cross, the treasury of all wisdom and knowledge, the triumphant victor over sin and Satan, the exalted Lord of life and glory, and the true pattern for the life of Christian faith.”
Paul was not seeking to give a seminary education; he was helping them “seek the things that are above, where Christ is” (3:1) because false teachings and practices from other religions had crept up like thorns to choke out the gospel in Colossae (Matthew 13:7, 22). Things like the worship of angels, pagan body mutilation, and Jewish legalism had crept in as false teachers and wolves told them that the gospel was not enough, that they needed to add something more. They sought to add to Jesus and thereby subtract from Him. As we look at the impact of these false teachings and how Jesus is better, these equations (I told y’all – Colossians & Candice) to help us keep it straight:
Jesus + nothing = everything Jesus + anything = nothing
When you add to the gospel, you change it. Jesus is either the only way (John 14:6) or He is no way at all. If we need anything more for salvation than the Bible says, God is a liar, and we are without hope. Paul offers the Colossian church – and us – the hope of who Jesus is, what He has done, and what He is doing in the lives of His people. That hope is worth more than any amount of religion. That hope is real.
“Grace to you and peace from God our Father”
When I read Colossians, I see so much of our world and situations that oppose the Church today. There are thorns everywhere seeking to choke the gospel out of our lives. There are wolves seeking to confuse and distract from Jesus. And, too often, we are hoodwinked and fooled when wool is pulled over our eyes and we prove to be nothing but ignorant sheep.
While that seems like bad news and we often lose hope because of the existence of evil in the world, there truly is good news. It is good to be a sheep when we can cry out with Scripture: “The Lord is my shepherd” (Psalm 23:1). Not only is He our shepherd, but He is the “Good Shepherd” (John 10:11). So, the same hope offered to the Colossian church is offered today: Jesus alone. False teachers, wolves, thieves, and even Satan himself seek to come after the Church. They “steal and kill and destroy”, but Jesus promises that His sheep will have “life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). He knows His sheep – lays down His life for His sheep – and He takes up His life again (John 10:17-18). And He promises that those who trust in Him, those who are His sheep, will have “eternal life”, “never perish”, and “no one will snatch them out of [His] hand” (John 10:28-29).
We do not deserve it, but He does not do it because we deserve it. He does it because He loves us. That is what grace is. And, just like the Holy Spirit did through Paul to the Colossian church, He gives us “peace from God our Father” by pointing us to the hope that is in Jesus Christ alone.
So, as we embark on this journey through the book of Colossians, it is my hope that you truly see that Jesus is Over All. I pray that you come to know Him more deeply, or that, if you do not know Him, that you see Him for all His glory and worth and come to faith in Him. I pray that studying His Word changes us and spurs us to be the Church He has called us to be. More than anything, I just want to show you Jesus. Because He is enough.
Hallelujah, and amen!
 Luther, Martin. What Luther Says: A Practical In-Home Anthology for the Active Christian. (Edwald M. Plass, Ed.). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House,1959., page 989.
 ESV Study Bible, 2291.