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by Paul E. Kretzmann
The Epistle of Paul to the Colossians
Colosse, or Colossae, was a city in the southwestern part of Phrygia, in Asia Minor, on the Lycus River, not far from its junction with the Meander. It was situated on an eminence about ten or fifteen miles southeast of Hierapolis and Laodicea, and about one hundred miles east of Ephesus, on the great caravan road from the Aegean to the Euphrates. At one time it was a flourishing commercial center, but it declined in importance and population as other cities gained its eastern trade. About a year after the writing of this epistle, according to the historian Eusebius, it was destroyed by an earthquake, which also laid a large part of the neighboring cities waste. At present the site of ancient Colossae is occupied by a small town called Konos, or Chonas. Ruins of the former city have been uncovered in recent years. The inhabitants of this part of Phrygia presented a mixed character, Greeks, Phrygians, and Jews. Their chief industry was the dyeing of wool, for the sheep of this section of Asia Minor were noted for their fleece, which assumed a very fine gloss when treated in the proper manner. The congregation at Colossae, like those of Hierapolis and Laodicea, had been founded by Epaphras, a pupil of the great apostle, identified by many scholars with Epaphroditus. Paul had indeed journeyed through Phrygia on his second and third missionary journeys, Acts 16:6; Acts 18:23, but he had not come into this section and therefore was not personally acquainted with the great majority of the members, Colossians 2:1. The congregation seems to have been numerically large, Colossians 4:15; Philemon 1:2, and probably consisted largely of Gentile Christians.
The letter to the Colossians was written by Paul in Rome, during his first imprisonment in that city. Epaphras had come to Rome for the purpose of visiting the apostle and of bringing him a report as to the condition of the church at Colossae. Favorable as the news was which he brought concerning the love of his parishioners in the Spirit, of their order, of their steadfastness in the faith, there were certain perils which threatened the young congregation. Certain false teachers that professed Christianity were nevertheless spreading Judaistic ideas, combined with certain philosophic speculations. They taught the Colossians that the Gospel as preached by Paul was incomplete and insufficient, that a higher wisdom and knowledge than that of simple Christianity was necessary, which they were prepared to furnish. They maintained that the tenets of the Jewish Ceremonial Law were still in force; they used enticing words, plausible arguments; they pretended a humility which they were far from feeling; they practiced ostentatious self-denial and gave their bodies hard treatment: they professed to have connection with the world of spirits and to be able to communicate with unseen forces. By their speculations and human doctrines and commandments they had placed themselves into opposition to the person of Christ and to His vicarious death on the cross. Therefore Paul felt constrained to write the Colossians this letter, full of entreaty, warning, and admonition. It was probably written toward the end of the year 62, and sent to Colossae by the hand of Tychicus, who was accompanied by Onesimus, a slave, who as heathen had escaped from his master Philemon in Colossae, but had now been converted by Paul and was returning to his master, Colossians 4:7-9: Philemon 1:10-11; Ephesians 6:21-22.
The letter to the Colossians, like that to the Ephesians, with which it is related, may evidently be divided into two parts, the first being doctrinal and polemical, the second practical. After the opening salutation and the prayers of thanksgiving and intercession the apostle expounds at length that Christ is the Mediator of the creation, the Redeemer of the world, and the Head of the Church, being proclaimed ad such by Paul, and being sufficient, in that capacity, for the needs of all men. He therefore, in the second chapter, follows this up with a warning against the errorists, showing first that the Christians by faith know the true heavenly secret and through faith possess the power to live a life of sanctification before God; whatever, therefore, the false teachers offer as a substitute can be nothing but deception. In the third chapter he reminds his readers of their duty as Christians to overcome all earthly desires and to walk in the love of Christ, everyone in his own station and calling. In the fourth chapter he concludes his letter with an earnest admonition to be untiring in prayer and to use proper wisdom and tact in their relation to the heathen. Then follow personal remarks, greetings from Rome, and the closing salutation.
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26