Colossians

 
THE EPISTLE OF PAUL TO THE
COLOSSIANS
 
 
O U T L I N E
– Introduction: Christ the Preeminent One Colossians 1
– Opening Salutation Colossians 1:1-2
– Thanksgiving and Prayer for the Colossians Colossians 1:3-14
– Expounding Christ’s Glory and Paul’s Ministry Colossians 1:15-29
– The Double Threat Facing the Saints: Philosophy and Religion Colossians 2:1-19
– Paul’s Desire that the Saints would be Established Colossians 2:1-3
– The Danger of Persuasive Speech Colossians 2:4-7
– The Danger of Rationalism Colossians 2:8
– Seven Principles That Will Preserve Us From Error Colossians 2:9-15
– The Danger of Ritualism, in the form of Judaism Colossians 2:16-17
– The Danger of Ritualism, in the form of Mysticism Colossians 2:18-19
– Death and Resurrection with Christ Colossians 2:20 – 3:17
– The Double Remedy for the Believer: Death and Resurrection with Christ Colossians 2:20 – 3:4
– The Practical Transformation of Our Lifestyle Colossians 3:5-17
– Practical Exhortations Colossians 3:18 – 4:6
– Practical Exhortations for Our Natural Relationships Colossians 3:18 – 4:1
– Practical Exhortations for our Prayer-lives Colossians 4:2-4
– Practical Exhortations for our Public Testimony to this World Colossians 4:5-6
– Closing Salutations Colossians 4:7-18
– Commendation of Tychicus and Onesimus Colossians 4:7-9
– Greetings from Paul’s Friends Colossians 4:10-14
– Paul’s Personal Farewell Colossians 4:15-18
 
Historical Context. Colosse was a small city in Asia Minor, located not far (15 km) from the prosperous Laodicea. We know from the first chapter that the saints were generally going on well, and yet they were in danger of being swayed by the forces of evil. Paul wrote the epistle when he was in prison in Rome. The epistles to the Ephesians and the Colossians were most likely written and delivered at the same time. We are led to believe this by the fact that Tychicus carried both letters (Eph. 6:21; Col. 4:7), and both were sent from Rome to Asia Minor. The fact that Timothy joined Paul in writing Colossians and Philemon, the fact that Archippus and Epaphras are saluted in both, and the fact that Onesimus was traveling with Tychicus (Col. 4:9), show us that the epistle to Philemon was written a the same time as Ephesians and Colossians, although it was carried by the hand of Onesimus due to its personal nature. This also, along with the fact that Onesimus was mentioned as a local Colossian brother, shows us that Philemon lived in Colosse, and that the assembly there was in his house (Philemon 1:2). The Colossians had never seen Paul’s face (Col. 2:1), but in writing to Philemon Paul asked him to prepare a lodging, showing that he intended to visit soon. Add the conclusion of the epistle, Paul asked that the letter be read in Laodicea as well. This shows that the dangerous doctrine had spread to the whole region. We know that Colosse was in Asia, very near to Laodicea, but when John writes in Revelation he addresses it to the (definite article) seven assemblies of Asia, and he does not mention Colosse. Is it possible that Colosse was no longer an assembly at that time? We cannot know for sure, but we do well to take the dangers that the Colossians faced very seriously.
 
Purpose of the Epistle. Colossians was written to deliver the saints from the dangers of philosophy and Jewish tradition by means of showing them the all-sufficiency of Christ. The two dangers that faced the Colossians are typical of the two great forms that evil often takes: rationalism and ritualism. Rationalism is the form of evil in which the mind of man takes the place of the Word of God. There is a tendency to take away from what God has said, or dismiss it as fantastic or mystical. Ritualism is the the form of evil where religious forms take the place of the Word of God. There is a tendency to add to what God has said. These two forms of evil have also been called skepticism and superstition. Skepticism affects the mind, and superstition affects the soul. But both are the intrusion of man into the things of God. The believer has everything he needs in Christ! There is no need place for human wisdom or human religion to be added, because we are “complete in Him” (Col. 2:10). Superlatives such as ‘all’, ‘every’, ‘full’, ‘filled’, and ‘complete’ abound in this epistle. Colossians takes up the glories of Christ, the head of the body, and our privileges and responsibilities in relation to Him. In a word, the theme of the epistle is the sufficiency of Christ.
 
The Roots of Gnosticism.

The word Gnostic comes from the Greek word ‘gnosis’, which means knowledge. The word is used by historians to describe a school of thought. Gnosticism arose from a group of evil workers who claimed to have higher light, special spiritual knowledge, or “secret wisdom”. This movement began in the days of the apostles, and continued into the 5th century. Before John died the seeds of Gnosticism had been sown; perhaps even before Paul's death (1 Tim. 6:20). John’s epistles are written to defend against the inroads of Gnosticism (2 John 1:7,9). Peter warns of their false teaching, and Jude warns of its moral effect on the Christian testimony. Gnosticism is responsible for not just one heresy, but seven or eight. What is it? In this mystical system, the spiritual world was good, and material world was evil. They rejected the incarnation, because it connects the human with the divine. The Gnostics would try to separate “Jesus” from “Christ”, by making Christ an emanation (a shining out from a source) from God that never truly became flesh, or else was united to a mere man named Jesus at his baptism, but returned to God before Jesus’ death on the cross. In doing so, this evil system annulled the incarnation, the atonement, and the resurrection. The doctrine of the New Testament anticipates this irreverent and wicked system of doctrine by stating the simple truth of Christ's Person and work. Church fathers who defended against Gnosticism were Ignatius of Antioch ('Seven Epistles'), and Irenaeus of Lyons ('Against Heresies').

The roots of Gnosticism are addressed in Colossians, under the heads of rationalism and ritualism, two areas in which these false teachers were seeking to add something to Christ. Read more…
 
Doctrinal Context. The doctrine of Colossians is an advance beyond what we have in Romans, but does not rise up to the level of Ephesians. In Romans we have the subject of deliverance from sin, and justification by faith. In terms of the typical teaching in Israel’s journey from Egypt to Canaan, Romans takes us from Egypt, through the Passover, through the Red Sea, and into the wilderness. Colossians is what we call a “wilderness epistle” like Philippians and Hebrews.1 This means that were are viewed as still on earth, and our success in the pathway is not settled, but rather depends on the choices we make. This is why in wilderness epistles we have conditional statements that begin with “if”. Colossians is a corrective epistle, because there were some there who were not “holding the head” (Col. 2:19); i.e. not in the practical good of their connection with Christ in glory. But Colossians goes further than Romans in that it takes us through the Jordan River, typically speaking. It comprehends the doctrine of our death and resurrection with Christ. However, Colossians does not bring us into what Canaan speaks of. That is left for the epistle to the Ephesians. In Ephesians there is an advance beyond Colossians. In Colossians the believer is viewed as on earth, but with his hope in heaven. In Ephesians the believer is viewed as blessed with all spiritual blessings, and already seated with Christ in heavenly places! The danger of apostasy is taken up in Colossians, but never in Ephesians. This shows that Ephesians takes us to a higher plane than any other epistle.
 
Colossians and Ephesians. Two expressions that help us to see the distinction between Ephesians and Colossians are “in Christ” and “Christ in you”. “In Christ” is our individual position before God, and “Christ in you” is Christ seen in the saints collectively, reflecting the mind of the Head. We get the “in Christ” side of the Mystery in Ephesians, and the “Christ in you” side in Colossians (Col. 1:28). You get both expressions in Romans; “in Christ” (Rom. 8:1) and “Christ in you” (Rom. 8:10).2 Colossians presents what Christ is to the Church, the Ephesians presents what the Church is to Christ. W. Kelly put it this way, “in Ephesians we have the privileges of the body of Christ, the fullness of Him who filleth all in all, so in Colossians we have the glories of the Head, in whom dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily”.3 J.N. Darby put it this way, “If the epistle to the Ephesians delineates the privileges of the body, that to the Colossians reveals the fulness that is in the Head, and our completeness in Him.”4 In one sense, Ephesians and Colossians view two different sides of the same truth; i.e. the truth of the mystery, the union between Christ and the church. In Colossians the church is incomplete without Christ (Col. 2:10), but in Ephesians Christ is incomplete without the church (Eph. 1:23)! Another difference is that Ephesians gives us a grander view of God’s purpose and ways than Colossians. Ephesians takes us from God’s eternal purpose (‘past’, as we think of it) all the way to the future glory in the Church by Christ Jesus through the ages of ages. In Ephesians, much of the doctrine and practical instructions are connected with the indwelling Spirit, but in Colossians the Spirit is hardly mentioned. Instead the doctrine centers around our having Christ as our life. Of course, the two are connected, but in Colossians the need was primarily for the saints to realize the importance and sufficiency of Christ.
 
Lines of truth in various epistles.5
 -  -  - Seated
 -  - Raised Raised
 -  - Quickened Quickened
 - Buried Buried  -
Dead Dead Dead  -
Crucified Crucified  -  -
Galatians Romans Colossians Ephesians
 
In Romans you get “in Christ” (Rom. 8:1) but it is only in the negative sense – what the position saves you from. But in Ephesians it is the positive side (Eph. 1:3) – what the position brings us into. In Romans you get “dead” in the aspect of “dead to sin” or separated from sin as to be no longer affected by its action. But in Colossians it is "dead with Christ" in a personal way.
 

"The Mystery". Often we think of a “mystery” as something that is difficult to discover or decipher. Paul does not use the word in this way. Rather, it refers to a secret counsel of God that was previously unknown in the Old Testament, but now revealed and made plain. It could not be known by anything but divine revelation; in fact, it is one of four special revelations given to the Apostle Paul. The teaching of "the Mystery" is found in Ephesians and Colossians.

read more…
 
Paul’s teaching of the Mystery. In Rom. 16:25 Paul says that his desire is to establish the saints in “my gospel” and in the “revelation of the Mystery”. We get the teaching of Paul’s gospel in the Epistle to the Romans. The teaching of “the Mystery” we get in Ephesians and Colossians, but it is also mentioned in Romans and 1 Corinthians. We need both to be established! Col. 2:3 says that understanding the Mystery is the key to all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Peter perhaps acknowledged the importance of it in his second epistle, when he spoke of the "wisdom" given to Paul, and that his epistles contained "some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures..." (2 Pet. 3:15-16). This is the truth that Paul suffered for. Primarily, the persecution came from the Jewish leaders who said “If you teach that these Gentile dogs are going to have a higher place of blessing that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob… we’ll kill you.”
 
  1. In Colossians the believer is clearly in the wilderness, but we can have a new life, whose hope is elsewhere; in the wilderness, and by faith looking at the resurrection of Christ, we are begotten again to a living hope by Christ’s resurrection; so Peter, so Colossians 2:12 – we are not baptised in Jordan, but to Christ’s death (the Red Sea) – our death is the end of the wilderness position, and the end of the wilderness death itself. But in Ephesians, this is looked at in the nature that belongs to the wilderness, or Egypt as it is – sinful flesh dead towards God, and, as to God, we begin in Jordan, or rather in what He does with us there when Christ is gone there for us. It begins with Christ, not as dying but raised from the dead, and so we dead in sins, found so, where He had come in grace (hence in virtue of the blood and the Red Sea) and quickened together with Him. – Darby, J.N. The Red Sea and Jordan. Notes and Comments, Volume 2
  2. “Christ in your hearts” (Eph. 3:17) is an expression that refers to holding Christ in our affections.
  3. Kelly, William. The Epistle to the Colossians.
  4. Darby, J.N. Synopsis of the Books of the Bible.
  5. Anstey, Bruce. The Epistle to the Romans. Christian Truth Publishing. 2018