As we begin our study of Colossians, we don't have to read too far to find out who wrote this letter and to whom. The apostle Paul regularly followed the customary form of greeting in first century letters. He first identified himself as the author with his associate Timothy, and then identified his recipients followed by a brief greeting. The book of Colossians is a letter written to first century believers in the church that was in the city of Colossae.
Colossians 1:1-2 (NKJV) Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, 2 To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are in Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
That's the greeting. It begins with who wrote the letter, "Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ...". Let's take some time this morning to focus on the first word, "Paul". The Apostle Paul is one of the central figures in the New Testament. There have been countless volumes written about Paul himself. Here's a man whose life is worthy of consideration. We feel the impact of this man's life down to our own day 2,000 years later. This man has made an impact on the world.
Turn to the front of your Bible where it tells you the order of the books of the Bible. We want to look at the New Testament, because 13 of the New Testament books were authored by Paul. If you have that listing of the New Testament, you'll see that after you move through the gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke and John - you come to the book of Acts. The book of Acts was written by Luke. Then comes the book of Romans, which was written by Paul. The following letters were also were written by Paul: 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, and Philemon. All are identified within the letter as written by Paul. Some people would add the book of Hebrews, but the author of Hebrews is not stated. But these 13 books, beginning with Romans and running through Philemon, are all credited in the New Testament to the Apostle Paul. Now you see something of the impact he has had in the work that God is doing in the world right down to our day. A significant portion of what we have as God's word, including the book of Colossians that we will be studying, was penned by Paul.
Turn over to the book of Acts. The four gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke and John - record the earthly life of Christ. Then comes the book of Acts. It was written by Luke, the physician, who also wrote the gospel of Luke. The book of Acts is the history book of the church.
Acts is the history book for the early period of the church. The history of how the church began, how the gospel was carried to various places in parts of the world, and the teaching that took place begins with chapter 2 and runs through chapter 28.
We meet the man Paul, or Saul as he is known there, for the first time in Acts, chapter 7. Stephen has been arrested, and he gives his testimony by working through Israel's history. Stephen stands before the Jewish leadership of his day to offer proof from the Old Testament Scriptures that Jesus was the prophesied Messiah, that He was the Son of God. At the conclusion of that testimony, Stephen is taken out and stoned to death:
Acts 7:58 (NKJV) and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.
Saul is Paul. As was customary in Biblical times, Jews often had two names and were given two names from birth. Paul tells us that he was born a Roman citizen. So he would have been given not only his Jewish name, but a Gentile name as well. His Jewish name is Saul. Paul tells us in Philippians, chapter 3 that he was of the tribe of Benjamin. The first king of Israel - Saul - also was of the tribe of Benjamin. So at his birth, Paul was given his Jewish name, Saul, by his Jewish parents. He also was given a Gentile name, Paul. It was customary at that time to give Jew and Gentile names that were similar in sound. At this time in Acts, chapter 7 he is known as Saul. He was there when Stephen was stoned. He heard the testimony of Stephen, and he is in hearty agreement that Stephen should be stoned to death. Saul evidently stands there with some authority and influence because the witnesses, the ones who testified against Stephen and who led the way in the stoning, laid their robes at his feet:
Acts 8:1-3 (NKJV) Now Saul was consenting to his death. At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. 2 And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. 3 As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.
Here's a man who is fanatically devoted to his cause, which is to wipe out the testimony of Jesus Christ. No pity was given to men or women. He desired to arrest and imprison all who declared their faith in Christ:
Acts 9:1-2 (NKJV) Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.
Saul is not satisfied to attempt to arrest and imprison any believers he can find in Jerusalem. Now he gets the Jewish authorities at Jerusalem to give him papers authorizing him to proceed to Damascus and arrest any there who are followers of Jesus Christ.
Then something dramatic and life-changing occurs to the Apostle Paul as he travels to Damascus:
Acts 9:3-5 (NKJV) As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. 4 Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" 5 And he said, "Who are You, Lord?" Then the Lord said, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads."
Paul acknowledges it is the Lord who would call from heaven, but he wants to know who says that he is persecuting him? The response from heaven: "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting." This is a remarkable, dramatic confrontation. Now Paul gets up. He is blind. The men who were traveling with him lead him into Damascus. There is a prophet in Damascus named Ananias. God appears to Ananias and tells him that Saul has arrived at Damascus. He tells Ananias to go down and see him and lay his hands on him. But Ananias had a little problem. He says, "Lord, I have heard about this man. I have heard about his vengeance and vileness against the church at Jerusalem. I know why he has come to Damascus. It's to persecute and arrest. You want me to go down and visit with him? That doesn't sound like a good idea to me."
Acts 9:15 (NKJV) But the Lord said to him, "Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel.
The doctrine of election is very simple. We are wretched, sinful people, uninterested in God and His salvation. But God in love reaches down and takes hold of those He has chosen and brings them to Himself. It is not always as dramatic as it was with the Apostle Paul. God did a similar thing with Abraham at the beginning of his walk with the Lord. Abraham's father, Terah, was an idol worshiper in Ur of the Chaldeans, but God intervened and called Abraham to himself. Even though the circumstances were externally different with Abraham and Paul, that is what happens when God calls those he has chosen to Himself. You may not see a bright light and be blinded on the road, but it was God who reached down and took hold of your heart and mind, turned you from your sin and brought you to Himself. That's why all the glory for salvation goes to Him.
So Ananias is told that Paul "...is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel." Paul is going to have a great and dramatic ministry before the kings of this earth. He will be the apostle to the Gentiles, but he will also bear testimony before the Jews. This will not be without cost. Suffering will be involved in Paul's life and ministry:
Acts 9:16 (NKJV) "For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name's sake."
Well, now you know the Apostle Paul before his conversion. Even as a young man, he threw himself into whatever he did. God had prepared the personality of Paul. When he was opposed to Christianity, he was opposed without restraint. When God took hold of his life, that same enthusiasm was poured into representing his God:
Acts 9:20 (NKJV) Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God.
You talk about a dramatic, 180-degree turn. Here is the man who is ready to throw into prison and have executed anyone who will say that Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah of Israel. Now, a few days later, he stands to declare that He is the Son of God. How did Paul get to know that? Well, it is not recorded here that when God spoke to him from heaven that He unfolded all these details. You have to understand that Paul, or Saul, as he was known then, was on a course of persecuting the church. He sat through the testimony of Steven and heard Steven tie the Old Testament passages to the work that God was doing, which culminated in Christ. How many Christians had he arrested and heard declare their faith in Jesus Christ as God, the Messiah of Israel, the Savior of the world? There is now no doubt in Paul's mind, Jesus Christ is Lord.
Paul then drops out of sight, if you will, for a several years. During that time, God is communicating much truth to him to prepare him for the ministry he will have. Paul returns to the scene in chapter 13, and he will become the dominant figure in the history of the church through the rest of the New Testament. We are told in chapter 13, verse 2 that while Saul was ministering to the Lord, he was called to service:
Acts 13:2 (NKJV) As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, "Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them."
Paul and Barnabas were set apart for the ministry in a special way. Now they embark on a trip. This is what is known to us as the first missionary journey. There will be three such journeys. Paul and Barnabas will travel to a certain part of the world, then return to Antioch and give a report on what has happened and how people have responded to the gospel. They will establish churches in those places, where people hear the message of Christ, believe, and are gloriously saved. Then they will go out on a second missionary journey. They will go to some new areas as well as visit some old ones, and more churches will be established. After they return, once again they will go out on a third missionary journey. More churches will be established. In all of this, the Apostle Paul will be a key and leading figure.
Acts 13:9 (NKJV) Then Saul, who also is called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him.
Early during this first missionary journey, Luke says, "Then Saul, who also is called Paul..." At that point, there is a change. Luke quits referring to him as Saul, his Jewish name, and through the remainder of the book of Acts refers to him as Paul, using his Gentile name. This is consistent with the ministry to which God calls him. He primarily is to be the minister and apostle to Gentiles. There is just that little note by Luke where the change occurs. From this point in the book of Acts, he will be called Paul. He now assumes the leadership in carrying the gospel particularly to the Gentiles.
You follow the three missionary journeys, then, as you come to the close of the book of Acts, Paul is arrested and taken as a prisoner to Rome. Because of the inability to get a fair trial in Jerusalem, he appeals to Caesar, which is his right as a Roman citizen. So he is transported to Rome. The book closes with Paul in prison, but it is more of a house arrest than an actual prison. He is a prisoner of Rome, but is more under house arrest:
Acts 28:16 (NKJV) Now when we came to Rome, the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard; but Paul was permitted to dwell by himself with the soldier who guarded him.
He is not in the formal Roman dungeon, but a soldier is guarding him. The law that applied to these soldiers was if you allowed your prisoner to escape, you gave your life for his. So it is a house arrest, but it is with a soldier who is going to make sure that Paul is not going anywhere. Not that Paul would have, but he did have certain freedoms.
It is during this time of imprisonment in Rome that Paul writes what is known as the prison epistles: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon. Now I agree with those who think Scripture indicates that Paul was subsequently released from this imprisonment at the end of the book of Acts. He carried on a ministry for another six years or so before he was arrested again and ultimately executed around A.D. 67. That is why the book of Acts does not close with an account of the execution of Paul. In fact, when he writes to the Philippians, which is one of his prison epistles, he says he is confident he is going to be released. Some time later, when he writes 2 Timothy, his last letter, he does not have that kind of confidence. When he is arrested again, he says the process has already begun that will culminate in his martyrdom. So you get a different flavor out of Acts and these prison epistles than you do from 2 Timothy.
Paul identifies himself as an apostle of Jesus Christ, "Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ...". The term "apostle" is a transliteration in a shortened form rather than an actual translation of the Greek apostolos. Apostolos means: "a sent one," but it came to be used in an official sense of one who was commissioned by another as his representative. This included special credentials and the responsibility to carry out the orders of the one who sent him. Our term "ambassador" adequately gives the basic meaning.
Apostle is used in a general sense, in some passages in the New Testament, of a person who is sent someplace. But in its technical sense, it refers to those we know as "the Apostles" - particularly the 12 and Paul. These were men selected by God to have a unique ministry in establishing the church. They were men who had to have seen Jesus Christ after his resurrection from the dead. Some at Corinth were challenging whether Paul was an apostle. Paul's response was:
1 Corinthians 9:1 (NKJV) Am I not an apostle? Am I not free? Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord?
You had to have seen Jesus Christ after His resurrection so that you could be an eyewitness. Paul is the last of the apostles. 1 Corinthians, chapter 15 opens with Paul recounting the post-resurrection appearances of Christ to those whom Christ appeared after His resurrection from the dead. Then Paul concludes that list by saying:
1 Corinthians 15:8 (NKJV) Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.
"I'm a unique case," Paul said. "I'm the last of the apostles. But He did appear to me, and that happened on the Damascus road." The apostles had the ability to perform miracles:
2 Corinthians 12:12 (NKJV) Truly the signs of an apostle were accomplished among you with all perseverance, in signs and wonders and mighty deeds.
It was necessary that the apostles could do signs, wonders, and miracles, because they also were the recipients of new revelations from God. Turn back to the book of Galatians. Here Paul talks about the fullness of the gospel that he preached, and he says in:
Galatians 1:11 (NKJV) But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man.
Paul is saying that Peter didn't teach it to him; John didn't teach it to him, no other man told it to him. Then Paul says where he got it from:
Galatians 1:12 (NKJV) For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ himself personally communicated it to him. That was part of an apostle's ministry. That is why he could do signs, wonders and miracles - to validate the new material he was presenting so the people would know that, yes, this is a message from God.
The same claim is made by Paul in Ephesians 3:3: "that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery..." A mystery is something that has not before been revealed in scripture. Paul says, "Here is new material. It was revealed to me. It hadn't before been revealed. What was revealed is that God was going to bring Jew and Gentile alike together into one body, the church. That is new information not revealed before. I got it by revelation."
When Paul says in Colossians, chapter 1 that he is an apostle of Jesus Christ, he is one who represents Jesus Christ. He is in a unique position. It is important to establish his authority, because he is going to deal with contrary teaching when we get to chapter 3. You understand that he is not just going to give one opinion among many opinions. He is going to render God's verdict on the issues at hand, because he is an apostle. He has that position.
There are some in the church today who are teaching that we are in the last days and apostles are again present. That is unscriptural! It is a way of promoting false authority in the church. There is not new revelation given today. Ephesians 2:20 says the church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. So we are going to study the book of Colossians, which is a writing of a New Testament apostle. We are building on that foundation.
"Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God..." "Of Jesus Christ" means either: "belonging to" (possessive genitive) or "sent by" (genitive of source or subject). "By the will of God" - There is no arrogance in what Paul is saying here. There is no self glory. What he is, he is by the will of God. As he wrote to the Corinthians, "I am what I am by the grace of God. I hold this position not because of superior merit. I hold this position by the will of God."
Joined with Paul is "...Timothy our brother..." Paul associates Timothy with himself in the salutation, but the accompanying designations distinguish the men with crystal clarity. Timothy is a Christian brother, but Paul is an apostle of Christ Jesus.
Two of the letters of the New Testament will be written to this young man - 1 and 2 Timothy. There is no man closer to the Apostle Paul in his ministries, beginning with his second missionary journey in Acts, chapter 16, than Timothy. But Timothy is not an apostle. Any authority he has will be a derived authority. He will pass on the letters of Paul and what Paul has said, but he does not have independent authority and direct revelation. He is Timothy our brother. He is not the co-author of this letter. Down through the first eight or nine verses, Paul will use the plural we as he moves into the letter, then he switches to the singular I. Timothy is joined with Paul in a number of his letters - 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Philemon, 1 and 2 Thessalonians. So you see Timothy plays a major role in Paul's life and ministry and is joined with him in the greeting in several New Testament letters.
Timothy is first mentioned in Acts 16:1. On the second missionary journey, Paul comes to Lystra, a city he had visited a little over a year earlier on his first missionary journey. Now, something happened during the first missionary journey. Paul and Barnabas took off on that first missionary journey - we read about the start of it in Acts, chapter 13 - and John Mark, a relative of Barnabas, accompanies them. But he gets part way along on the trip, then bails out and goes back home. Comes time for the second missionary journey, Barnabas says, "Let's give Mark another chance and take him along." Paul says, "Look, he bailed out the first time. He's not going this time." Paul and Barnabas have such a serious disagreement that Barnabas takes John Mark and goes a different way. Paul takes Silas as his new traveling partner and starts off on the second missionary journey.
When they get to Lystra they meet the young man, Timothy, who's well spoken of. Paul then has Timothy join him as a traveling companion with him and Silas. From that point, there is no man closer to Paul than Timothy. You can read 1 Timothy and Paul's last letter, 2 Timothy, to get something of the flavor of the relationship. Timothy was evidently saved on Paul's first missionary journey through Lystra. You get this idea, because Paul refers to him several times as "my son" or "child in the faith," which seems to indicate he was saved under Paul's ministry. But Timothy had preparation for this, because the letters written to Timothy tell us that from earliest childhood he was taught the sacred Scriptures by his mother and grandmother.
Timothy had a Gentile father and Jewish mother and grandmother who grounded him in the Old Testament Scriptures. Timothy evidently would have been about 20 years of age when he was saved during Paul's first missionary journey. Just a reminder - the work that his grandmother and mother had done is credited by Paul as playing a key role in Timothy's salvation even though that salvation was not experienced until he was a man of about 20. From the language used about Timothy, some people estimate he would have been about 21 or 22 when he joined Paul in Acts, chapter 16, which meant he'd have been around 20 if he was saved on Paul's first missionary journey.
So Timothy becomes Paul's companion, and Paul says some wonderful things about Timothy. In 1 Thessalonians 3:2, Paul refers to Timothy as "...our brother and God's fellow worker in the gospel of Christ...." What a great statement. In 1 Corinthians 4:17, he calls Timothy "...my beloved and faithful child in the Lord...."
Now turn to Philippians 2:19. Remember this, like Colossians, is another one of the letters written by Paul from the same Roman imprisonment.
Philippians 2:19-21 (NKJV) But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, that I also may be encouraged when I know your state. 20 For I have no one like-minded, who will sincerely care for your state. 21 For all seek their own, not the things which are of Christ Jesus.
You know, these are high commendations from the Apostle Paul of the worth and value of Timothy.
When we read the letters written to Timothy, we get the idea he has a different personal makeup than Paul. Paul is the driving, relentless zealot. Timothy seems to have some timidity about him. Paul reminds him in 2 Timothy 1:7 that "...God has not given us a spirit of timidity..." or cowardice. He tells Timothy to stir up the gift which is in him. Get it burning a little hotter. But you also must realize that about everyone I know needs some admonition like that, compared to the Apostle Paul. I know if Paul came and spent a couple months with me, he would say, "David, don't you think you ought to turn the heat up a little bit? You know you don't have to be a coward about this." So, I want to put what is said about Timothy in proper perspective. He is a man who is beset by physical problems. Paul tells him in 1 Timothy 5:23 to drink a little wine for his stomach's sake and his frequent ailments. Evidently, Timothy had reoccurring physical problems. All in all, maybe they are different kinds of personalities, but they both are men greatly used. Timothy is a man of proven worth, and we benefit from his ministry today as well.
So, Paul is writing this letter and he wants Timothy to be joined with him in greeting this church. They are writing, "to the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are at Colossae..." The believers in this church are identified in two ways. They are called saints, and they are called faithful brethren. The word "saints" is translated from the common Greek word hagios. Three English words come from this basic word - saints, holy, and sanctify. In the AV, the most common translation is "holy" (occurring 161 times out of a total 229) but "saints" is reserved for the plural form (in 61 occurrences) where, if literally translated, it would be rendered by the word "holies" or "holy ones". The basic idea of this word means: "to be set apart". It is used in the Old Testament of things associated with the worship of God that were holy. For instance, in the tabernacle the utensils were holy. They were set apart from common use and were to be used only in connection with the worship of God. The nation Israel was holy. It was set apart from the other nations to belong to God.
Saints are not super spiritual Christians. Our cultural use of this term is wrong. All believers are saints. The term "saint" is never used to speak of our practice. It is always used to speak of our position. The word "saint" is to remind us of who we are. We are saints, and because of that we are to live a holy life.
Paul next identifies his readers as "faithful brethren in Christ". One commentator writes, "This indicates that while entry into the blessing of Christ is by faith, evidence of it is found in faithfulness." It seems that his theology is controlling his exegesis rather than letting his exegesis, form his theology. The word "Faithful" is the plural of the adjective pistos, which may mean either: "faithful" or "believing."
John 20:27 (NKJV) Then He said to Thomas, "Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but [pistos] believing."
Commentators are fairly well divided over whether it means "faithful" or "believing" in this passage. It seems that because of the use of one article with the two nominatives (adjectives used as nouns) connected by "and" (kai), it is a further description of "the saints". It could very well be that Paul is defining who saints are from the standpoint of faith. They are "believing brethren in Christ."
The saints are saints, because they are "in Christ Jesus." This is our unique position. Who else claims this? Did you ever hear someone say, "I'm in Muhammad." Or "I'm in Buddha." Or "I'm in Joseph Smith." Only believers are in Jesus Christ, it is our unique relationship. We are one with Christ. This is the basis for our acceptance.
Ephesians 1:6 (NKJV) to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He has made us accepted in the Beloved.
This is why you can never lose your salvation. Unless Christ Jesus gets kicked out of the Trinity, you will never lose your salvation. We are one with Christ. We share His death, His resurrection, His life. All that He is and has, we are and have.
Literally, by way of emphasis, the Greek text reads, "To the in Colossae saints and (or "even") believers (or faithful) brethren in Christ." With these words, the apostle describes the recipients in terms that identify them spiritually and physically in relation to two spheres of life. They are identified spiritually in relation to their position in Christ and physically in relation to their geographical location, at Colossae, a reminder of the two spheres in which believers live.
The believers were certainly "in Colossae" in body but "in Christ" in Spirit, bringing all that they experienced from Heaven into a living reality onto earth. In other words, as God rules in Heaven, so His rule is brought to earth in Colossae through the saints.
"Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."
Grace - Grace is all that God is free to do for man on the basis of the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Because of what Jesus did, God is free to give us grace. What do I mean when I say that God is free -- God's justice and righteousness are satisfied in the death of Jesus Christ. Jesus paid our sin debt. Therefore, God is free to give us grace. Grace has no strings attached, it's free. What do you have to do to keep your salvation? If you have to do anything, it isn't free. Do you understand that? If I give you something, and then say , "You can keep that if you do this or that," then what I have given you is not a gift, it must be earned by your works.
God is free to express his love under the plan of grace, a plan in which God does all the work in providing, and man does all the receiving and enjoying apart from any merit or ability. We did not earn or deserve grace:
Romans 5:8 (NKJV) But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
We deserve hell, anything less is pure grace. Grace is unmerited and abounding favor of God toward men. Peace is the result of that favor. Our Peace was obtained at the cross of Christ. It is the result of the reconciliation of man and God through Jesus' death. Because God has given us grace, we have peace. Grace from God results in peace with God.
2 Corinthians 4:14-15 (NKJV) knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus, and will present us with you. 15 For all things are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God.
God's grace brings Him glory as we express thanks to Him for His wonderful free grace. Have you thanked Him lately?
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