Pastor David B. Curtis

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An Introduction To Colossians

Colossians

10/05/2003

We are starting a new study this morning in the book of Colossians. It is our normal practice here at Berean Bible Church to study the Bible verse by verse. God chose to put His scripture together in books or letters, and I think the most effective way to come to a thorough understanding of what God has said is simply to study it as He has given it. Our goal and purpose is to come to an understanding of what God has said, and what He meant by what He has said.

I would ask that you prepare each week by reading ahead and doing some studying and praying over the text. If you just take the time each week to read through Colossians as though it was a letter, you'll get so familiar with the content that you'll find yourself getting a grasp of the book. So let me encourage you to take that first step. There are a lot of things that we need to study in detail and depth to really understand in Scripture. But our biggest problem in understanding Scripture is that we just aren't very familiar with what it says. So take this letter and say, "I'm just going to make it a point to read through it every week." If you do, you'll be surprised at how much it will take hold in your life, as well as how much you understand.

After the message, I would ask that you would be a faithful "Berean" and search the Scriptures to make sure that what I am saying is so. Then once you are sure you understand what the particular scripture is teaching, you need to take a very difficult step and apply it to your life.

We are studying Colossians, because it is part of the Word of God and is, therefore, profitable to us in four areas:

2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NKJV) All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Scripture is to be used for doctrine, which teaches us about God and man. It is to be used for reproof or conviction, showing someone his sin and summoning him to repentance. It is proving that charges made against someone are true. Correction is setting a person's life straight. Instruction in righteousness is disciplined training in what is right. The Scriptures have the power to change lives, because they are the word of the living God. It is by the Scriptures that we are brought to maturity and equipped to serve God.

As we approach the study of this letter, we need to seek to answer several questions.

Who wrote this letter?

Paul is strongly affirmed to be the author of Colossians. Colossians was undisputedly Pauline until the nineteenth century. Since that time, the epistle has been assailed on critical grounds from some circles. This is because Colossians betrays a different style and a different vocabulary stock than the undisputed Pauline books. The style is more labored, with many more subsidiary clauses than in Paul's earlier letters. Not only this, but the genitive, preposition, and participle uses are somewhat different from the undisputed books. The general impression left by the Greek style of Colossians is that it is very ragged. A different amanuensis would account for many of these differences.

The evidence both external and internal supports a Pauline authorship.

External Evidence: The later Church Fathers accepted it. Ignatius has several reminiscences from Colossians, though no explicit quotations. Polycarp and Barnabas also seem to allude to it. Justin Martyr's allusions are stronger still, and Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen explicitly call it Paul's letter. Although the external evidence for the authenticity of Colossians is not as good as for 1 Corinthians or Galatians, it is, nevertheless, quite strong. In fact, the external testimony for it is so ancient and consistent as to obviate any doubts regarding its authenticity.

Internal Evidence: The strongest argument in support of its authenticity is the inseparable connection of the epistle with Philemon. Philemon is one of only four personal letters written or dictated by Paul in the New Testament, the others being the two letters to Timothy and the one to Titus.

The casual reader all too easily assigns the writing of Philemon to an undisclosed time and place which has been lost to history. However, the similarities between these two letters is such that the believer is compelled to accept that they were composed at virtually the same time - perhaps even on the same day - and that they were in the same "bag" that brought the messages to those believers situated in the Phrygian city of Colossae.

The more general letter was composed specifically to meet the need of the fellowship of believers within the city, while Philemon was composed to speak to the situation of a returning slave who'd fled from his master's control a while - perhaps years - before, but who'd come to an acknowledgment of Jesus as being his savior as Philemon, the slave's master, had done.

Comparisons between the two letters are fairly conclusive, and, though some other comparisons may be inferred or hypothetical, there's no doubt that the unity of the two writings has been established. Both include Paul and Timothy's name in the opening greeting (Col. 1:1; Phm. 1). Both include greetings from those with Paul at this time, namely, Aristarchus, Mark, Epaphras, Luke, and Demas (Col. 4:10-14; Phm. 23,24). Archippus is called a "fellow soldier" in Philemon 2 and directed to fulfill his ministry in Colossians 4:17. Onesimus, concerning whom Philemon is written, is mentioned in Colossians 4:9 as being sent with Tychicus and as being "one of you".

Other internal evidence would be: Paul is specifically identified in the letter to the Colossians:

Colossians 1:1 (NKJV) Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

The mention of Timothy along with Paul in the prescript is customary in the undisputed letters of Paul. The author follows the Pauline practice of conveying his personal greetings from his fellow workers to the congregation by means of a dispatched message (4:8). The author follows the Pauline practice of closing the letter with his personal signature, as well as, making mention of his own situation as prisoner. Paul is identified in the body of the letter (1:23ff). Paul ties his apostleship to the same tradition of Jesus Christ (1:23ff; 2:6). The expression, "I, Paul" is typical in the Pauline corpus to render his persona.

In the light of this data, it is impossible to imagine that the two epistles were sent at different times, and since the authenticity of Philemon is generally unquestioned it carries with it the high probability that Colossians is a genuine work of Paul. There is no good reason to doubt the authenticity of Colossians. Precisely because of this, most New Testament scholars accept it as genuine.

When was this letter written?

Colossians is one of Paul's four "prison epistles" ( Ephesians, Philippians, and Philemon).

Colossians 4:18 (NKJV) This salutation by my own hand; Paul. Remember my chains. Grace be with you. Amen.

The general consensus is that these epistles were written during Paul's imprisonment at Rome:

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.
Acts 28:30-31 (NKJV) Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, 31 preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him.

If such is truly the case, then Paul wrote Colossians around A.D. 60-63 from Rome. The indication is that the epistles to the Colossians, Philemon and the Ephesians were carried to their destination by Tychicus and Onesimus:

Colossians 4:7-9 (NKJV) Tychicus, a beloved brother, faithful minister, and fellow servant in the Lord, will tell you all the news about me. 8 I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that he may know your circumstances and comfort your hearts, 9 with Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They will make known to you all things which are happening here.
Why was this letter written?

This letter appears to have been written because of some special need of the Colossians. Paul had received a report of the situation at Colosse by way of Epaphras:

Colossians 1:7-8 (NKJV) as you also learned from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, 8 who also declared to us your love in the Spirit.

This report was, for the most part, favorable (2:5). But the subject matter in the epistle strongly suggests that the church was facing a doctrinal danger. Many of them had seemingly been caught up in a new teaching (although based on old ideas), which was distracting them from Christ. It is often called "The Colossian Heresy". One of the difficulties in trying to reconstruct the heresy which plagued the Colossian church is that we only have Paul's response to it; that is, we do not have a record of Epaphroditus' report. The difficulty in determining what the heresy looked like is similar to listening to one half of a telephone conversation--or worse, reading someone else's mail when that person is writing a response. Consequently, any reconstruction must be quite tentative. The only details we know about the heresy are what we can extract from the letter. It would seem to have been a mixture of early gnosticism and Judaism

It would appear to have been based on the relatively common idea at the time that because men were evil, flesh itself must be evil and could not, therefore, directly approach God or Christ. Thus there was a need for a man's spirit to come to God through some semi-divine intermediaries, certain "principalities and powers" (1.16; 2.15), which graduated downwards, becoming less and less divine, who were worshiped (2.18) through the "knowledge" (gnosis) known only to the few.

It further included the practice of asceticism, of following certain ordinances in respect of abstinence from food and drink and observing of holy days as a means of battling with the flesh (2.16-17), while indulging it at the same time (2.23). The nature of this heresy is not fully known. It is the general principles involved that are important, which have to be combated again and again, not the unverifiable details of a forgotten heresy.

Paul's reply is briefly that while it is true that man is evil, it is essentially because of the rebellion of the will, not the weakness of the flesh (1.21-22; sons of disobedience - 3.6), and that through Christ alone, all men who will can rise above it through faith in Him (1.4; 2.6-7). All worthwhile knowledge must be in Him "in Whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (2.3), and access to God is through His blood shed on the cross and through His resurrection (1.14, 22; 2.12, 14-15). There are, therefore, no intermediaries, either necessary or able to bring men to God. It is through Christ alone. Nor are worldly ordinances necessary; they have been annulled by the coming of Christ. Christ is now all. While acknowledging the existence of supernatural beings, he declares that such as are against Christ are a defeated foe, not a channel to God.

The primary purpose of the letter was clearly to combat this false teaching. The false teachers were not giving the person and work of Christ proper interpretation or emphasis. The two main problems were the doctrine of Christ and how this doctrine affects Christian living. The primary Christological passages (1:14-23; 2:9-15) present Christ as absolutely preeminent and perfectly adequate for the Christian. The Christian life, Paul explained, flows naturally out of this revelation. The Christian life is really the life of the indwelling Christ that God manifests through the believer:

Colossians 2:9-10 (NKJV) For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; 10 and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.

The outstanding Christian doctrine that this letter deals with is Christology. Paul's great purpose was to set forth the absolute supremacy and sole sufficiency of Jesus Christ.

Warren W. Wiersbe, in The Bible Exposition Commentary writes:

The church today desperately needs the message of Colossians. We live in a day when religious toleration is interpreted to mean 'one religion is just as good as another.' Some people try to take the best from various religious systems and manufacture their own private religion. To many people, Jesus Christ is only one of several great religious teachers, with no more authority than they. He may be prominent, but He is definitely not preeminent.
This is an age of 'syncretism.' People are trying to harmonize and unite many different schools of thought and come up with a superior religion. Our evangelical churches are in danger of diluting the faith in their loving attempt to understand the beliefs of others. Mysticism, legalism, Eastern religions, asceticism, and man-made philosophies are secretly creeping into churches. They are not denying Christ, but they are dethroning Him and robbing Him of His rightful place of preeminence.

This letter is rich in "Christology", the study of Christ Jesus, Messiah, Lord, and Son of God. The most basic form of Bible doctrine is Christology. If you are going to mature as a Christian, you must know this. You can't love Christ if you don't know Him.

Can you have eternal life without knowing Christ? Many today would say that you can have eternal life and yet not trust Christ. What do the Scriptures say?

John 3:16 (NKJV) "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

Who is it that receives eternal life? It is "whoever believes in Him". Who is "Him"? It is God's only begotten Son, Jesus Christ.

1 John 2:21-22 (NKJV) I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and that no lie is of the truth. 22 Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son.

Not only are we to trust Christ for eternal life, but we are to grow to trust Him in every area of our lives. Faith in Christ is something that we are all to grow in, and we can only do this through a study of Scripture.

In Luxor, a city in upper Egypt, are the remains of the great temple of Luxor. The columns of this temple are over six feet in diameter and reach high into the air. On top of one column near the edge of the excavated area there was a small house. A local farmer tried to find a solid foundation for his home. As sand blew away from his home, he discovered his house was on a hand carved stone. After excavations had begun, the farmer realized that it was a standing column, and after the excavations were completed, he found that his home was nearly eighty feet above ground level.

There is a parallel here to many Christian's understanding of the Lord Jesus Christ. Their lives are built on Jesus Christ, they have trusted Him for their salvation, but they know as little about Jesus Christ as the Egyptian farmer knew about the foundation of his house. What can you tell me about Jesus?

Psalms 9:10 (NKJV) And those who know Your name will put their trust in You; For You, LORD, have not forsaken those who seek You.

"Those who know Your name"--i.e., those who know God's character. To know God's character is to be able to trust Him. Do you know Christ well enough to trust Him? Do you know Him well enough to have such confidence in Him that you believe He is with you in your adversity, even though you do not see any evidence of His presence and His power? Do you trust Him?

Psalms 20:7 (NKJV) Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; But we will remember the name of the LORD our God.

What the psalmist is saying is that we are not to trust in our own strength, but in God. We are able to trust in Him when we remember His name, i.e. His character.

Isaiah 50:10 (NKJV) "Who among you fears the LORD? Who obeys the voice of His Servant? Who walks in darkness And has no light? Let him trust in the name of the LORD And rely upon his God.

Isaiah exhorted the Servants to walk by faith, trusting in the name of the Lord, trusting His character. Hopefully, our study in Colossians will help us all to know Christ better, so we can trust Him more.

THE CITY OF COLOSSE

The city was located about 100 miles east of Ephesus in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey). Together with Hieropolis (4:13) and Laodicea (2:1; 4:13-16; Re 3:14-22), Colosse made up a tri-city area. Each city had its own distinction: Hierapolis was known as a place for health, pleasure, and relaxation. Laodicea was known for its commercial trade and politics. Colosse was known simply as a small town. Colosse was mostly a pagan city with a strong intermingling of Jews. Antiochus the Great (223-187 B.C.) transplanted 2,000 families of Jews from Mesopotamia and Babylon to Phrygia and Lydia. In 62 B.C., there were 11,000 Jewish freemen in the tri-city area. This may explain the nature of some of the problems that arose among the church in Colosse (problems with both pagan and Jewish origin). The people of Colosse were mostly Phrygians and Greek colonists.

THE CHURCH AT COLOSSE

The establishment of the church is uncertain. At issue is whether Paul himself had ever been there. Some suggest that Paul may have done some work there during his third journey, on the way to Ephesus (cf. Ac 18:23; 19:1). Others point out that Paul's comments imply that he had not personally been in Colosse:

Colossians 2:1 (NKJV) For I want you to know what a great conflict I have for you and those in Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh,

One possibility is that the church was established during Paul's extended stay at Ephesus, where the effect of his work spread throughout Asia Minor:

Acts 19:8-10 (NKJV) And he went into the synagogue and spoke boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading concerning the things of the kingdom of God. 9 But when some were hardened and did not believe, but spoke evil of the Way before the multitude, he departed from them and withdrew the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus. 10 And this continued for two years, so that all who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.

It may not have been Paul, himself, but one of his co-workers who went out to Colosse. Paul's remarks in the epistle indicate that Epaphras was the one who preached the gospel there:

Colossians 1:5-8 (NKJV) because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel, 6 which has come to you, as it has also in all the world, and is bringing forth fruit, as it is also among you since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth; 7 as you also learned from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, 8 who also declared to us your love in the Spirit.

He also preached in Hierapolis and Laodicea (4:12-13). Though he was with Paul at the time the epistle was written, Epaphras is identified as "one of you" (4:12), suggesting that he may have originally been from Colosse. Other members of the church at Colosse included Philemon, Apphia, and Archippus, who may have been father, mother, and son.

By comparing the epistle to the Colossians with that written to Philemon, it is reasonable to suppose that the church at Colosse met in one of their homes (cf. 4:17 with Phe 1-2, and the references to Archippus). If Philemon and his family were hosts of the church at Colosse, then Onesimus (Philemon's slave) would have also been a member there upon his return (cf. 4:7-9 with Phe 8-16).

Who was this letter written to?
Colossians 1:2 (NKJV) To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are in Colosse: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

This letter is written to the "saints...who are in Colosse". That is, to Christians, but more specifically, to first century Christians who lived in Colosse during the transition period. If we are going to study the Bible, we must have some understanding of Hermeneutics. Hermeneutics is the science of Biblical interpretation.

Luke 24:27 (NKJV) And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.

The word "expounded" is the Greek word diermeneuo, which means: "to explain throughly, expound, interpret".

The purpose of hermeneutics is to establish guidelines and rules for interpreting the Bible. Any written document is subject to misinterpretation, and thus, we have developed rules to safeguard us from such misunderstanding. The Supreme Court's job is to function as a board to interpret the Constitution. They are to be involved in hermeneutics.

God has spoken, and what He has said is recorded in Scripture. The basic need of hermeneutics is to ascertain what God meant by what He said. If we don't understand what God meant by what He said, we will end up twisting the Scriptures to meet our own needs. Peter put it this way in his second epistle:

2 Peter 3:16 (NKJV) as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.

Untaught means: "ignorant"; and unstable is asteriktos, which means: "unfixed, vacillating".

The primary rule of hermeneutics is called: The Analogy of Faith -- this means that Scripture interprets Scripture. No part of Scripture can be interpreted in such a way as to render it in conflict with what is clearly taught elsewhere in Scripture. Along with this is the rule that The Implicit is to be Interpreted by the Explicit. Implicit means: "suggested though not plainly expressed". Explicit means: "clearly stated, definite". The word twist, that Peter uses, is the Greek word strebloo, it means: "to put on a torture rack, to twist or pervert". It's real easy to twist or distort the Word of God, but it is hard work to interpret it accurately.

Another rule is that we are to "Interpret the Bible literally." To interpret the Bible literally is to interpret it as literature. That is, the natural meaning of a passage is to be interpreted according to the normal rules of grammar, speech, syntax, and context. When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense. Therefore, take every word at it's primary, ordinary, usual, literal (Biblical not twentieth century) meaning unless the facts of the context indicate clearly otherwise. The Red sea really parted, Jesus really walked on water.

Most of what the Bible says is to be construed literally. You might ask, "Most, not all?" That's right, most, the Bible uses metaphors, parables, apocalyptic language and anthropomorphism. Jesus said, "I am the vine." Is that literal? No, it is a metaphor. The Mormons take anthropomorphism literally and make God out to be a man, because He is said to have hands, eyes, and ears. If you take that approach, what do you do with Psalm 17?

Psalms 17:8 (NKJV) Keep me as the apple of Your eye; Hide me under the shadow of Your wings,

Now is God a chicken or duck, because He is said to have wings? John 4:24 says that "God is a spirit." Remember the analogy of faith, Scripture cannot contradict Scripture. We must understand metaphors, parables, and apocalyptic language.

Another principle is the Grammatico-- Historical Method. We must focus on the grammatical construction. Grammatical structure determines whether words are to be taken as questions, commands, or declarative. For example, in Acts 1:8 it says, "You shall be my witnesses." Is that a future prediction or a command? In the English, it's unclear, but it's clear in the Greek, it is a command.

"Historical analysis" -- involves seeking a knowledge of the setting and situation in which the books of the Bible were written. This includes the date of the writing, the authorship, the destination. These are all important for a clear understanding of the text. Too often we come from the ego-centric perspective that assumes that whatever the Bible says, it says to us and our generation! Yet, that hermeneutic ignores the historical context. When interpreting Scripture, we must always be aware that every verse, every line, and every statement has just one interpretation, yet many applications.

Part of historical analysis is the principle of Audience Relevance or Original Relevance -- what did the original readers understand the text to mean? The Bible was written to real people in real places facing real circumstances.

Colossians 3:4 (NKJV) When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.

What age did the recipients of this letter live in? You only have two choices: what the Bible calls "this age" (which was the Old Covenant age that ended in A.D. 70) or what the Bible calls the "age to come" (which began in A.D. 70). They lived in what the Bible calls "This age". Why is that important to know? It is important because of the hermanutical principle of Audience Relevance. These first century saints were looking for the coming of Christ, we in the 21st century are not! We are living in what to them was the "age to come". These distinctions are important to a proper understanding of Scripture.

We are to also Determine carefully the meaning of words. Whatever else the Bible is, it is a book which communicates information verbally. That means that it is filled with words. Thoughts are expressed through relationships of those words. Each individual word contributes something to the whole of the content expressed. The better understanding we have of the individual words used in biblical statements, the better we will be able to understand the total message of Scripture. Accurate communication and clear understanding are difficult when words are used imprecisely or ambiguously. Misuses of words and misunderstanding go hand in hand.

There are two basic methods by which words are defined: etymology -- which is the science of word derivations. And usage -- which is how the author uses a word. Usage always takes precedence over etymology. In addition to origins and derivations, it is extremely important for us to study language in the context of its usage. This is necessary, because words undergo changes in meaning depending on how they are used. The word "scan" used to be defined in English dictionaries as meaning: "to read carefully, in close detail". More recent editions define "scan" as: "to skim over lightly."

A foreigner could study the English language until he had it mastered, but you put that person on a city street corner in America, and he will have a hard time figuring out what is being said. He might over hear two teenagers talking and hear them say, "She's so phat" and wonder why they would say this about a thin girl.

Also, there are scores of words in the Bible that have multiple meanings. Only the context can determine the particular meaning of a word. Alexander Carson said, "No man has a right to say, as some are in the habit of saying, 'the Spirit tells me that such or such is the meaning of such a passage.' How is he assured that it is the Holy Spirit and that it is not a spirit of delusion, except from the evidence that the interpretation is the legitimate meaning of the words?" [Examination of the Principles of Biblical Interpretation page 23.]

Why do we need all these rules? Why can't we just read the Bible and understand it? I'll tell you why, it is because when you open the Bible, you are immediately transported into a world that is very different from your everyday world. It is full of strange customs, language, thought patterns, and history. Opening these pages sets you down in a different world, time, and culture. To understand what is being said, you have to apply the rules of hermeneutics, you have to do some work.

Believers, this is God's Word. The Supreme Sovereign of the universe has given to us His Word. We must make every effort to interpret it correctly, accurately, that we may stand approved. Yes, it is work, hard work, but it's well worth it.

The study of the Bible is not beyond any Christian, it is a matter of spending time in it, reading it, studying it, praying over it. We need to overcome our laziness and make time for learning about our God and what He expects from us. If the average salesman knew as much about his product as the average Christian knows about the Bible, he would starve to death.

Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. How can we glorify God if we don't understand who he is, and what he expects of us? And how can we know these things if we spend so little time in His Word?

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