The New Testament book of Colossians is a book of connections. Writing from prison in Rome, Paul squared off against false teachings, which had infiltrated the Colossian church. The problem was “syncretism”, combining ideas from other philosophies and religions (such as paganism, strains of Judaism, and Greek thought) with Christian truth. The resulting heresy later became known as “Gnosticism”, emphasizing special knowledge (gnosis in Greek) and denying Jesus Christ as God and Savior. To combat this devious error, Paul stressed Christ’s deity – His connection with the Father – and His sacrificial death on the cross for sin. Only by being connected with Christ through faith can anyone have eternal life, and only through a continuing connection with Him can anyone have power for living. Christ is God Incarnate and the only way to forgiveness and peace with the Father. Paul also emphasized believers’ connections with each other as Christ’s body on earth.
Paul’s introduction to the Colossians includes a greeting, a note of thanksgiving, and a prayer for spiritual wisdom and strength for these brothers and sisters in Christ (1:1-12). He then moves into a doctrinal discussion of the person and work of Christ (1:13-23), stating that Christ is the “image of the invisible God” (1:15), the Creator (1:16), the “head of the body, the church” (1:18), and the “beginning and the firstborn from among the dead” (1:18). His death on the cross makes it possible for us to stand in the presence of God (1:22).
Paul then explains how the world’s teachings are totally empty when compared with God’s plan, and he challenges the Colossians to reject shallow answers and to live in union with Christ (1:24-2:23)
Against this theological backdrop, Paul turns to practical considerations – what the divinity, death, and resurrection of Jesus should mean to all believers (3:1-4:6). Because our eternal destiny is sure, heaven should fill our thoughts (3:1-4), sexual impurity and other worldly lusts should not be named among us (3:5-8), and truth, love, and peace should mark our lives (3:9-15). Our love for Christ should also translate into love for others – friends, fellow believers, spouses, children, parents, slaves and masters (3:16-4:1). We should constantly communicate with God through prayer (4:2-4), and we should take every opportunity to tell others the Good News (4:5-6). In Christ we have everything we need for salvation and for living the Christian life.
The Layout of Colossians
What Christ Has Done:
This is concentrated in (1:1-2:23) … Paul clearly teaches that Christ has paid for sin, that Christ has reconciled us to God, and that Christ gives us the pattern and the power to grow spiritually.
What Christians Should Do:
This is concentrated in (3:1-4:18) … Because Christ is the exact likeness of God, when we learn what He is like, we see what we need to become. Since Christ is Lord over all creation, we should crown Him Lord over our lives. Since Christ is the head of the body, His church, we should nuture our vital connections to Him.
Themes: Explanation and Importance
CHRIST IS GOD
Jesus Christ is God in the flesh, Lord of all creation, and Lord of the new creation. He is the expressed reflection of the invisible God. He is eternal, pre-existent, omnipotent, equal in every respect to the Father. He is supreme and complete.
Because Christ is supreme, our lives should be Christ-centric. To recognize Christ as God is to regard our relationship with Him as most vital and to make His interests our top priority.
CHRIST IS HEAD OF THE CHURCH
Because Christ is God, He is the head of the church, His true believers. Christ is the founder, the leader, and the highest authority on earth. He requires first place in all our thoughts and activities.
To acknowledge Christ as our head, we must welcome His leadership in all we do and think. No person, group, or church can regard any loyalty as more critical than that of loyalty to Christ.
UNION WITH CHRIST
Because our sin has been forgiven and we have been reconciled to God, we have a union with Christ that can never be broken. In our faith connection with Him, we identify with His death, burial, and resurrection.
We should live in constant contact and communication with God. When we do, we all will be unified with Christ and with one another.
False teachers were promoting a heresy that sressed self-made rules (legalism). They also sought spiritual growth by discipline of the body (asceticism) and visions (mysticism). This search created pride in their self-centered efforts.
We must not cling to our own ideas and try to blend them into Christianity. Nor should we let our hunger for a more fulfilling Christian experience cause us to trust in a teacher, a group, or a system of thought that centers around anything other than Christ. Christ is our hope and our true source of wisdom.
A Closer Look… Colossians 1:1-29
Paul is grateful for the faith that the Colossians have in Jesus Christ; note the mention of the Christian graces of faith, love, and hope:
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints – the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel that has come to you. All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth. (Col. 1:3-6)
Paul doesn’t stop with his gratitude, but prays for the continued growth of the Colossians in their love for Christ and for God:
For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgivenss of sins. (Col. 1:9-14)
Paul speaks of the character of Jesus Christ, in one of the high points of Colossians:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he may have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Col. 1:15-20)
Paul cites the enormity of what Christ has accomplished for lost humanity:
Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation – if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant. (Col. 1:21-23)
Paul speaks of Christ’s commission to him to proclaim the gospel, and speaks of the mystery of God’s revelation of His grace to the Gentiles through His Only Son:
Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness – the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. (Col. 1:24-28)
A Closer Look… Colossians 2:1-23
Paul speaks of Christ being exalted over philosophy; the “way of the world”:
I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. (Col. 2:1-4)
See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. (Col. 2:8-10)
Paul speaks of Christ being exalted over legalism; the concept of justification before God through the law:
In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Col. 2:11-15)
Christ demolished the old order, and Paul speaks to how this has freed us from being judged by anyone other than God:
Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. (Col. 2:16-17)
Paul speaks of Christ being exalted over mystical teaching:
Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions. He has lost connection with the Head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow. (Col. 2:18-19)
Paul speaks of Christ being exalted over ascetic practices; the traditions of men:
Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules? “”Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence. (Col. 2:20-23)
Paul is nothing if not clear: Christ is exalted above all else!
A Closer Look… Colossians 3:1-25
Paul reminds Christians that they have an exalted calling, and he urges them to live as such:
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden in Christ with God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Col. 3:1-4)
Isn’t that the most beautiful of images… Christ appearing in His glory, and you with Him?
To be worthy of appearing with Christ, and then to be forever in the Kingdom of Heaven with Him, Paul explains what the characteristics of Christians should (and must) be:
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Col. 3:5-17)
Paul ends by enjoining wives, husbands, and children of families to love each other, and to submit to each other out of reverence for Christ, who is Lord and Master of all; he also enjoins both slaves and masters (this may be thought of nowadays more appropriately as, for example, employees and employers) to fulfill their responsibilities to each other, warning both that there is but one Master in heaven, and that there is no favoritism with Him at all.
A Closer Look… Colossians 4:1-18
Paul encourages Christians to devote themselves to prayer, not only for their own requests presented to God, but also that the mystery of His Son Jesus Christ would be proclaimed clearly:
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. (Col. 4: 2-4)
Paul also warns that our conduct as believers should be temperate, and that our words should be both unsoiled and unspoiled:
Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Col. 4:5-6)