Colossians: Introduction

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THE KINGDOM OF LIGHT

A Letter to Holy People COLOSSIANS

Welcome and Prayer
Leader: The Lord be with you.
People: And also with you.
Leader: Let us pray.

Silence

Almighty and gracious God, you have laid up for us in your word a store of good things. Give us today a hearing ear, a seeing eye, an understanding heart, that we will take these your treasures and make them a part of our living. As your Holy Spirit guided the Apostle Paul in the writing of this letter, we ask for your Spirit’s presence with us to guide our understanding. In the name of your Son, Jesus Christ, we make these petitions. Amen.

Overview of the Session
Our study of Colossians begins with an introduction of the book. That will set the stage our under-standing as to when and where Paul wrote this letter and the reasons behind his writing. Our study will divide Colossians into seven sections. The first is entitled OUR INHERITANCE IN THE KINGDOM OF LIGHT, which covers verses 1 – 14 of chapter 1. As we meet each time, we will share our questions and responses to our study. To help us get the most from each session, we will read through the Scripture passage a couple of times as we begin.

LEARNING COMMUNITY

LIFE SHARING

Sharing our stories
Before you reached 18 years of age, what was the best news you ever got? Explain why that news was important to you.

Reflection from personal study
Do you have any initial questions or reflections from reading Colossians or the introduction? Were there any experiences that you can share that came to your mind from your personal study?

Colossians: An Introduction
In preparation for this study, please read Acts 24:27 – 25:12 as well as the 4 chapters of Colossians.
The Apostle Paul is in Rome, in prison because he had appealed his arrest to the Emperor. He had already served two years in a prison in Caesarea. The chief priests and Jewish elders wanted Procius Festus, the new governor, to move Paul for trial to Jerusalem. Paul knew that would be a sham trial with only one outcome. As a Roman citizen, he could appeal to the Emperor and have his trial in Rome. This is what Paul did and he is sent to Rome. (Acts 24:27-25:12).

Paul was in prison in Rome for a little over two years. During that time, it is generally accepted that he wrote four letters, Ephesians, Philippians, Philemon and Colossians. The writing of Colossians was probably in the early 60’s AD, about the same time he wrote Ephesians and Philemon. Philemon was a member of the church at Colosse and the letter that bears his name was a personal appeal to Philemon to receive back into fellowship his runaway slave, Onesimus.

The occasion for the writing of Colossians and Philemon was that Epaphras who was a leader in the church at Colosse, traveled to Rome to visit Paul. This leads us to ask how Paul and Epaphras came to know each other. While there is no direct information in either Acts or Colossians, from what Paul writes here it is apparent that he knew Epaphras well.

The geography of Asia Minor helps us out, however, in drawing some conclusions as to how Paul and Epaphras knew each other. Years earlier, Paul had been in the city of Ephesus where he taught for two or three years (Acts 19:8-10). Colosse was situated in a valley about 100 miles west of Ephesus. Also in that valley were the cities of Laodicea, which Paul mentions in this letter, and Hierapolis. They were situated near the Lycus River that joins the Meander River. Colosse, the oldest of the three, had declined in size and importance by the time of Paul=s writing.

Undoubtedly, Epaphras traveled from Colosse to Ephesus while Paul was teaching there and was influenced in his faith and service to the Lord by the apostle. Now, years later, Epaphras comes to Rome to see Paul. He brings news from the church at Colosse. About him Paul writes, Athis 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. You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ in our behalf, and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.@ (Colossians 1:6-8).

Those words tell us a lot about what had happened. Epaphras was trained and motivated in his love for God by Paul. Epaphras, returning to Colosse from Ephesus, did the work of an evangelist and established churches in Colosse, Laodicea and Hierapolis. Although Paul had not seen them, he knows about them and has been praying for them. So, while not his Achildren@ in the Lord, they are his Agrandchildren@ and he is happy to hear of their growth in grace.

THE OCCASION FOR THE LETTER
Two matters coincide to move Paul to write this letter. First, Epaphras arrived in Rome. There helping Paul out is Onesimus, a runaway slave who belonged to Philemon, a member of the Colosse church. Onesimus had met Paul in some way and came to faith as a result of that contact. Onesimus is nervous about returning to Colosse because under Roman law, a slave who had run away from his master could be put to death. You can imagine the range of emotions that surfaced when Epaphras and Onesimus see each other with Paul standing to one side.

Introduction
Beside that, Epaphras has some questions for Paul. The congregations back in Asia Minor were running into some issues that needed answers. Now we start thinking like we are playing Jeopardy, the TV program. We have the answers, but we have to guess at the questions. In his letter to Colosse, Paul spells out in clear and magnificent language the supremacy of Jesus over all authority and powers (1:15-20). If you have Christ, Paul writes, you need nothing else. Thus any worship or inclusion of other intermediaries such as angels, etc., is unnecessary AFor God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in (Christ), 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.@ (1:19, 20).

Laying next to this is Paul=s caution about being led by philosophy and traditions of the world. There were those who were claiming a Asupra-knowledge@ that was more Aup-to-date@ than what they had heard from Epaphras. Paul=s response to that? ASee 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 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.@ (2:8-10).

The next answer that Paul gives was directed to those who imposed a false humility and need for ascetic regulations. Again, he writes, ASince 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 teaching.@ (2:20-22).

It appears that members of this church were picking up ideas and beliefs from their surrounding culture. Remember, this letter was written about 30 years after Jesus= death, resurrection and ascension. They did not have the complete New Testament as much of it was still being written and circulated. Some thirty years after this letter, the Apostle John wrote the book of Revelation. In that book, the church at Laodicea is given strong warning to repent and return to the truth. So Paul=s letter was a signal that things were not everything they should be in the Lycus valley.

We want to return for a moment to the issue of slavery. Paul sent this letter and the one to Philemon, the slave owner, with Tychicus to Colosse. Along with Tychicus goes Onesimus, the run away slave. In this letter and the one to Philemon Paul writes of the importance of mutual respect for other humans, whether slave or slave owner. He does not support the harsh laws and treatment of slaves that was prevalent at that time throughout the Roman world.

This short book provides us with great ideas and thoughts that will stimulate our hearts and increase our devotion to our Lord and Savior. Paul stirs up our prayer life, too. He is praying for them and asks that they pray for him (1:9-12; 4:2-5). It=s a book that encourages us to read, study and memorize some of the great verses already identified. Dig into its riches and nourish your soul with the glories of Christ that you will discover as you read.