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Over the next fifteen years, there were many converts to Christianity — three thousand in one day at Pentecost! The Church in Colossae was founded some ten years after this, but not by Paul. In fact, he had never visited the city Col and the Acts of the Apostles, which tells the story of the first thirty years of Christianity, does not mention Colossae by name.

One of these was Epaphras, who founded the Church in Colossae Some scholars date the Letter to the Colossians and the Letter to Philemon to when Paul was imprisoned in Ephesus, some to his later imprisonment in Rome. In either case, the Church at Colossae would only have been established for a few years when the letter arrived. Imagine belonging to a religious movement you first heard of less than ten years ago, one that meets in private homes because it is not quite legal and is based on stories told by a travelling missionary who left Colossae shortly after forming the group; one whose leaders are in and out of prison and whose founder, Jesus, was executed a generation ago.

This is the difficult situation the Colossians were in, and as such they got a bit confused.


Paul began to hear reports that worried him. Sometimes, the stories we read in Scripture seem to come from a very different world. By contrast, the world of the Colossian Christians sounds very familiar: multinational businesses, excellent communications, frequent long-distance travel, a broad interest in spirituality.

The first century Roman Empire is an exciting time and place to be alive. One could worship the emperor, the mother-goddess Cybele, the many-breasted Artemis and the terrible Zeus all in the same week! Even Judaism, while strict and exclusive in Jerusalem, relaxes as it leaves home soil and begins to mix, discreetly, with other spiritualities.

If there was a branch of Waterstones at Colossae, the Colossians would have enjoyed a whole range of religious titles: books on the traditional religions, but also books on angels, sprits, philosophies, exercises, diets, prophets, horoscopes, numerology, moon rituals, witchcraft, revelations and prophecies. Paul feared that the Colossian Christians may have been falling for some of these teachings and that this threatened to compromise their Christian faith.

This was a constant struggle for Paul; he had also had trouble keeping the churches in Galatia and Corinth on the straight and narrow. One can sense his frustration. Many of these worldviews sound impressive, but they are not Christianity. At best, they are weak imitations, mere shadows of Christ. He was desperate to convey this message to the Colossians. Do not listen to people who tell you there is something wrong with you unless you do things their way.

Do not believe teachers who say anything is more important than Christ. Learn who Christ is! Only then will you know true wisdom. The Letter to the Colossians was therefore written to tell the Christian community to hold on to what they had learned and believed about Christ in the face of false teaching. In fact, Paul himself was probably not the author of the Letter to the Colossians, or of some of the other epistles attributed to him.

It is likely that it was written in his name to give emphasis to the encouragement it contains, but for the purposes of this discussion I will identify Paul as its author. The address includes the usual greeting, a thanksgiving and a prayer for the continued progress of the Colossians. Paul expresses his confidence in the preaching of Epaphras and the solid foundation it gave to the community.

The transition from the realm of sin and error to that of grace and truth occurs in baptism and must be lived out in the daily lives of Christians. In response, Paul quotes a hymn about Christ , see also Phil , which was probably used in their liturgy. Paul stresses the redemption and peace won for us through Christ.

Quoting this hymn has more than one purpose. By starting with something the Colossians already know and share in common, Paul affirms their faith and builds on the unity of their belief. He sets out the example of Christ and the example of his own ministry as a model to be followed. His confidence may be surprising, but it makes sense when one examines the basis of this practice. Paul is firmly rooted in God and his confidence is not self-reliance but, rather, hope in God. In describing his ministry — , Paul adapts categories important to the Colossians and to the false teachers who are disturbing them.

Before warning about the false teachings , Paul again encourages the Colossians in their faith. The false teachers presumed something was lacking in Christ and that salvation required something more. The additional requirements were a combination of Jewish and pagan philosophies, ideals and practices. All are members of Christ, who is the head of the body, the Church. According to Paul, these teachings are enough and false teaching must be avoided. Paul begins by preaching the gospel — telling his readers who Christ is and what Christ has done for them, and laying out a clear contrast between Christian teachings and the spiritual holdall they have been rummaging in.

Once he has laid this foundation, he turns to the stuff of daily life. After listing behaviours Christians should avoid and behaviours they should adopt, he offers general instructions on how Christians should relate to the members of their households. Paul seems to think so. As you read or listen to Colossians and Philemon , look for the links between his teachings about Christ and his advice for daily life.

Tychicus is the messenger entrusted with the letter to the Colossians. Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Henri de Lubac. Hans Urs von Bal John Calvin. Jonathan Edwards. John Howard Yoder.

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