Read the Passage: Colossians 1
Listen to The Redeemed Mind Podcast: Colossians 1
Author and Date: The book of Colossians is one of the thirteen (or fourteen) New Testament epistles written by the apostle Paul (cf. Col. 1:1). Note that Colossians is one of two letters Paul wrote to churches that he had not yet visited (cf. Col. 2:1)—the being the epistle to the Romans. While Acts does not narrate these events, it is likely that the church in Colossae had been started by Timothy and Epaphras (cf. Col. 1:1, 7; 4:12–13) during Paul’s third missionary journey, when Paul spent three years ministering in the city of Ephesus (cf. Acts 20:31). Observe that the city of Colossae is located roughly 100 miles east of Ephesus, in the province of Asia, near the region of the seven churches of Revelation 1–3. Given its location, the church in Colossae was likely made up of mostly Gentile converts (cf. Col. 1:21, 27). Since Paul’s third missionary journey lasted from AD 53–57, this church may have been founded around the year AD 55. This letter was written by Paul from Rome during his first prison term (cf. Acts 28:17–31), sometime between AD 60–62. Since Paul wrote this epistle while he was under house-arrest in Rome, Colossians has historically been known as one of the four prison epistles, along with Ephesians, Philippians, and Philemon.
Theme and Purpose: In addition to giving the church a general update about his imprisonment and personal ministry, it’s clear that Paul wrote this epistle to combat false teaching in the church. Observe Paul instructs that this letter was also to be read in the neighboring city of Laodicea. This shows that the false teaching addressed by Paul was more than just a local issue (cf. Col. 4:16). The false teaching in these churches was apparently an early form of the heresy later known as Gnosticism. This false teaching has two key ideas: (1) that salvation is only available to a select few via the attainment of secret knowledge, and (2) that the material world is inherently evil. Other facets of this heresy that Paul addresses in this letter include: Old Testament legalism, the worship of angels, and personal mysticism. The theological teachings that Paul mentions in Colossians include: the deity of Jesus, the necessity of reconciliation, the concept of redemption, the doctrine of election, the importance of forgiveness, and the significance of the church, among many other concepts.
Structure and Outline: The book of Colossians is structured in a typical Pauline manner, with the first two chapters being theological in nature and the last two chapters being practical in content. A brief thematic outline of the book is:
- Personal Greeting (1:1–14)
- Doctrinal Instruction (1:15–29)
- Pastoral Warning (2:1–23)
- Practical Exhortation (3:1–4:18)
Faith of the Church (1:1–8)
This epistle is one of six letters that Paul wrote while ministering with Timothy, the others being 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Philemon, and 1 & 2 Thessalonians. Paul’s greeting in this epistle is standard, as he greets, blesses, and gives thanks for the church in Colossae. As he wrote about his prayers for the church, in Col. 1:4–5 Paul cites the often-mentioned Christian character trait trilogy of faith, hope, and love. Note that faith is a gift of God that produces salvation (cf. Eph. 2:8–9), love is the evidence of redemption (cf. 1 John 3:14), and hope is the result of knowing God (cf. Rom. 5:2). These blessings come, writes Paul, “In the word of truth of the gospel” (Col. 1:5). In Col. 1:7 Paul mentions a man named Epaphras, who is only mentioned at Col. 4:12 and Phm. 1:23. Little is known about Epaphras; however, it seems likely he was the founder of the church in Colossae.
Preeminence of Christ (1:9–18)
In Col. 1:9–12 Paul prays for the church that they’d know God’s will, walk worthy of Christ, please God, abound in good works, increase in knowledge, be strengthened with joy, and give thanks to God. In Col. 1:13–14 Paul reminds these believers about some of the benefits of salvation, including: deliverance, citizenship, redemption, and forgiveness. This leads Paul to pen one of the greatest Christological passages in entire Bible at Col. 1:15–19. In this passage we learn that all things were created by Jesus, through Jesus, for Jesus, and consist in Jesus. Observe that in calling Jesus as “the firstborn over all creation” (Col. 1:15), Paul is referring to Jesus’ position (or His authority), not to Jesus’ creation (or His chronology). Furthermore, in this passage Paul reminds his readers that Jesus is “the head of the body, the church” (Col. 1:18) and that all things are about His preeminence.
Ministry of Paul (1:19–29)
In Col. 1:19–23 Paul continues writing about Christ, as he describes the goal and the effect of Jesus’ atonement as being the “reconcil[iation] of all things to Himself” (Col. 1:19). The teaching here is that Christ not only created all things, but also that He redeemed all things. Observe that earlier Peter preached about “the times of restoration of all things” (Acts 3:21) and Paul wrote about the “gather[ing] together in one, all things in Christ” (Eph. 1:10). The themes of reconciliation, restoration, and redemption run all throughout Scripture. Next, in Col. 1:24–29 Paul briefly writes about his own ministry, which included his suffering on account of the gospel message, his preaching to the Gentiles, his teaching wisdom to all who would listen, and his eventual presentation of believers to Christ. Paul understood his gospel ministry to be a stewardship from Jesus (cf. Col. 1:25), and Paul realized that his own labors in Christ were empowered by Jesus Himself (cf. Col. 1:29).
- As we begin our study of Colossians, what facts, content, questions, and/or other issues come to your mind about this book?
- Have you ever taken time to meditate on the Christian concepts of grace, mercy, peace, faith, hope, and love?
- What does it mean that all things were created through Jesus Christ? How does this idea fit with the creation account in Genesis 1?
- What does it mean for Jesus to have preeminence in all things? How important are the ideas of redemption, reconciliation, and restoration?
- What is the extent of the gospel? Is the gospel only about personal salvation? If not, what else does it include?