Colossians 1:1–14 (NRSV)
1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,
2 To the saints and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ in Colossae:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father.
Paul Thanks God for the Colossians
3 In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 4 for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, 5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the gospel 6 that has come to you. Just as it is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world, so it has been bearing fruit among yourselves from the day you heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God. 7 This you learned from Epaphras, our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, 8 and he has made known to us your love in the Spirit.
9 For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. 11 May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13 He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Throughout the history of faith there have been ups and downs, ins and outs, and some pretty strange things occur. Some of these things were very important to the emergence of the Church and others were just weird. If you were to look at the various movements throughout the history of the church, we would see that many of the movements from the first centuries they would resemble many of the movements that we are familiar with today. The main exception would be the technology used, which can allow the teachings to spread wider and faster. I mention this because just as Solomon says, “there is nothing new under the sun.”
In the apostolic church there were groups that thought that the followers of Christ should keep the Old Testament laws even if they were born Gentile. There are those that believe this today. There were groups that were focused on what we would call charismatic manifestations of the Spirit, these groups are still here today. There were groups that were focused primarily on correct doctrine and those that were more likely to focus on social justice. There is nothing new under the sun. All of these groups, expressing their faith the best way they knew how. For centuries these groups all worshiped and praised how they best saw fit and at times epistles were written to encourage them to reconsider their focus. There is one thing that the first centuries of our faith did that we today can look back on and praise, through all the various thoughts and debates they were passionate about Christ to the point that they were willing to face death for their faith. Humanity is a passionate creature. We can sometimes become so passionately enthralled that we can become blinded by reality. This is why Paul wrote his letter to the people of Colossae.
The city of Colossae was one that was at one time very important. It was situated on the highway that connected the Eastern Empires to the West and was one of the prominent cities of Asia Minor when the Persians and Greeks were clashing. It was a city that was known for the production of fine wool, particularly purple wool. This is interesting because the first European mentioned to become a follower of Christ was Lydia, a merchant or dyer of purple cloth who met with Paul in Philippi and was from the city of Thyatira. I find this fascinating because it shows how the gospel spread not only because of the Apostles going out into the community but because people who had heard and believed took that gospel with them where they worked and along the trade routes, Lydia was a merchant or a craftsman of purple garments and Colossae is a city that is known for their purple wools.
The other interesting thing about this city is where it is located. By the time this letter was written the city of Colossae was dwindling. When the Greeks and Persians ruled Asia Minor Colossae was thriving because it was along a major trade route. When Rome became the overlord of Asia Minor, they built roadways and they shifted the route of to a different city, Laodicea, which is about ten mile west of Colossae. Paul and Timothy most likely wrote this letter to the church from the City of Ephesus, which is located on the coast of Asia Minor which is approximately 100 miles west. I am hoping you are recognizing some of the city names, because they are the very cities to which John was to send the Revelation of Jesus to; Ephesus, Laodicea, Philadelphia, Sardis, Thyatira, Pergamum, and Smyrna. These seven churches form a triangle with Pergamum being at the northern point, Ephesus on the West and Laodicea on the East. Can you see a possible pattern here? Pergamum, Smyrna, and Ephesus are on the coast and the others are inland but all very important to the economy of the Empire. These cities were merchant cities and merchants traveled the lengths of the Roman roads to purchase and sell their wares, and Colossae is right there. All these struggles that these seven churches had were probably issues that Colossae was facing as well.
So Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles is in Ephesus, most likely imprisoned there and Epaphras hears that he is there and sends word to Paul to inform him about the ministry and struggles in Colossae. We do not know much about the man Epaphras, but we do know that Paul held him in high regard. He is mentioned in this letter and in the letter to Philemon, who was the master of a runaway slave who Paul was trying to protect, and also from the city of Colossae.
The interesting thing about the letter to Colossians is that Paul did not visit the community, and was not a direct participant in the establishment of the church. Many believe that Epaphras was the one that planted the church in Colossae, and that Epaphras may have been a student of Paul’s in an early formation of a seminary in Ephesus. So when Paul hears about the work of his student, the beloved fellow servant, he is overjoyed even though he is also concerned. Why would Paul be concerned? Their focus is becoming skewed. There are many theories about what concerns Paul; some believe that they are mixing the teachings of Christ with philosophy, others believe that like the people of Galatia they might have a group promoting gentile participation in Jewish law observance, while others believe that they were focused on experiencing wonders.
We will get to the concerns later. What I want us to look at today is how Paul begins his letter of addressing the concerns that he senses. When Paul writes a letter he usually begins with how the people are doing things correctly. “For we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.” He then speaks of the fruit they are bearing and is growing in the whole world, as they hear and comprehend the grace of God.
Paul begins to speak to them by praising them for the positive things in their lives. This is very important to note. In our current era the church is often seen as being judgmental, because we often focus on the things we do not participate in and become outspoken about issues we see as being contrary to the ways of God. Paul speaks first about the positive aspects of their faith. “You are bearing fruit, and it is growing throughout the world.” He is excited for them and the potential they have in the kingdom. While this is not a prominent city in the area, it has the potential to become a central hub for the Kingdom of God. He is saying these things to a community that once knew greatness and had lost so much of what they once had, they there is hope and that hope is what makes them great.
Many of us can identify with the concerns of diminishing. We have all personally felt the struggles of a diminishing economy. We have also tasted the fear of diminishing influence in a community. But we should not focus on those things. Our economic standing does not determine our value, and our influence within a community does no define who we are. When we place our hope in these things we will live in the fear of diminishing.
“For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.”
Imagine if Billy Graham wrote those words to us, imagine if those words come to us from the personal pen of Richard Foster, Eugene Peterson, C.S. Lewis, or John Calvin. Imagine if those words came from some great teacher or preacher, we respect and they were written just for us. Epaphras wrote to his mentor and friend possibly lamenting, and Paul tells him look at what you have done. You have been a faithful minister of Christ. You have gone to a place for us, and people who were once without hope are bearing fruit. Keep your eyes on the hope we have in the Gospel. Stand in the light, and continue to work.
Paul is praying that they be filled with knowledge and spiritual wisdom and understanding, and that they will live a life worthy of Christ bearing fruit in every good work. We gain this knowledge and are directed in the good works of Christ when we focus on Christ and the lifestyle He taught while he ministered on the earth. It is through this lifestyle of worship, prayer and service that we learn to listen to God’s voice. In this type of lifestyle we learn to discern where the Spirit is leading us to become a blessing and spread hope. And it is in this lifestyle where through our obedience we become instruments of God’s blessing to the world.
Colossae was once a major city but diminished, yet they did become great in the kingdom. Their struggle is often our struggle and their hope is our hope. We can so often become distracted by the things around us. We watch the news and feel as if the world is crumbling around us. But are these reports areas of ministry that God is calling us to? Do we watch the news and pray that we gain knowledge and understanding in how to become a blessing in our community? “He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Worship, pray, and serve. Praise, Pray, and Bless. Entrust our lives and our church to God in whom our hope is secured through Jesus. And let us look at what He can do through us in the future.