Introduction: ABCs of Colossians
Paul identifies himself as the author of this letter written to the church at Colossae. Paul, whose Hebrew name was Saul, was born in Tarsus, a major Roman city on the coast of southeast Asia Minor. Tarsus was the center for the tentmaking industry, which may have influenced Paul to choose that craft as his occupation (his primary paying profession). His religious profession was that of a Jewish Pharisee.
Paul was from the tribe of Benjamin (Philippians 3:5) and trained at the feet of Gamaliel (Acts 22:3), a well-respected rabbi of the day. He was an ardent persecutor of the early church (Philippians 3:6, Acts 8:3, 22:4-5, 26:9-11) until his life changing conversion to Christianity (Acts 9:1-31, Galatians 1:11-24).
After believing in Jesus Christ as his Savior, Paul was called by God to take the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15). This was an amazing about-face for a committed Pharisee like Paul who ordinarily would have nothing to do with Gentiles (Acts 10:28). Paul wrote 13 epistles in the New Testament. Tradition has it that Paul was beheaded shortly after he wrote 2 Timothy in 67 AD. (Information adapted from The Woman’s Study Bible, p. 1834)
The country village of Colosse lay in the beautiful Lycus Valley about 100 miles east of Ephesus. It was 1 of 3 ancient towns situated close to each other—Colossae, Hierapolis, and Laodicea—along a major trade route between the big city of Ephesus to the west and the Euphrates River to the east. What each city did affected the others. The population of Colosse was mostly Gentile of Greek descent. A large Jewish group lived there, having been relocated from Mesopotamia by Antiochus in the second century BC, bringing with them eastern influence. Because of being near a major trade route, the town was influenced by ideas and practices from both the east (Mesopotamia) and the west (Rome). So, the mindset was mainly Greek with influx of new ideas from the East and other parts of the Roman Empire. Over time, the road system changed, and Colossae lost its importance. Laodicea became the greater city. In the 7th-8th centuries, the people moved to a fortress south of the city and in the 12th century, the Turks destroyed Colosse. Today, Colosse is composed of uninhabited ruins. Motorist guides to Turkey point out Laodicea’s ruins but do not even mention Colosse. Archeologists have unearthed ruins of the ancient church.
On his third missionary journey, Paul spent 3 years in Ephesus (~54-57 A.D), a large city of 250,000 people. While there, Paul held classes every day for anyone wanting to learn about Jesus Christ, having their sins forgiven, and gaining a new way to live. The gospel spread throughout that part of Asia Minor. One of Paul’s students named Epaphras traveled 100 miles east back to his hometown of Colosse to bring the gospel to the people living there.
A few Jews believed the message about Jesus, but it was mostly the Greeks and Romans who listened and trusted in Jesus to take away their sins. They started worshiping God together as a church. Epaphras also started churches in Hierapolis and Laodicea. The churches grew larger. And, false teaching began to infiltrate them.
While Paul was imprisoned in Rome for 2 years, Epaphras headed to Rome to discuss what was happening with his mentor Paul. The church was now about 5 years old. Paul had never met the Colossians, but he loved these young Christians very much. So he wrote a general letter to pass around to the whole region (the letter to the Ephesians) as well as a letter specifically to the 3 churches in the Colossian area. He wrote a third letter, a personal one, to a rich landowner named Philemon about his runaway slave Onesimus. These three letters plus the one to the Philippians are called the “Prison Epistles” since Paul wrote them while he was imprisoned in Rome. Paul’s co-worker Tychicus delivered the letters to Ephesus and Colossae. Onesimus delivered the personal letter to his master, Philemon.
Context for Healthy Living
Picture this scenario. It’s 2 a.m. A baby is very fussy and restless. The mother awakes, goes to pick her child up out of the crib, and realizes that her infant who was healthy the day before is now burning with fever. There’s an infection in the small child’s body! The worried parent knows she must treat the infection through medicine and/or a visit to the doctor followed by rest and patiently waiting for the treatment to take hold. The baby will hopefully soon return to healthy living.
Heresy is an infection in the Body of Christ. By definition, heresy is an opinion or belief that contradicts established religious TRUTH. Heresy is not just error; it’s anti-truth! And like an infection in the human body, heresy always affects one’s spiritual health (as well as emotional, mental, and sometimes physical health). So, heresy must be addressed. It cannot be ignored. The medical treatment for all heresy is found in the New Testament!
The infection in Colosse afflicted the believers there regarding their view of the identity and deity of our Lord Jesus Christ. False teachers taught that Jesus was not the Lord, just a lord. They were teaching them that faith in Jesus was not enough for them to be spiritual. They needed to add other “experiences” to the mix. This is the root error of many cults today. The place that Christ holds in any religious teaching determines whether it is true or false—healthy food or heresy. The Colossians were infected with heresy.
Paul wrote the letter of Colossians to contradict this infection. In Colossians, we find through Paul the greatest declaration of Christ’s deity and sufficiency found in Scripture. What Paul wrote then seems written expressly for our own day when so many “teachers” and “groups” are trying to rob Jesus Christ of his deity and sufficiency for our salvation through grace alone and our acceptance to God apart from works.
The emphases of these false teachers are still with us today. The first is “higher” knowledge (Gnosticism). The second is the observance of laws to win God’s love (legalism). The third is the belief that beings other than Christ must mediate between people and God (mysticism). The fourth is the practice of abstaining from things to earn merit with God (asceticism). (Constable’s Notes on Colossians, p. 36)
Genuine Christians can be deceived by false teaching, even teaching concerning Christ. Is there some concept that you have about Jesus Christ, salvation, or the Christian life that is not based on Scripture but on man-made tradition or philosophy? Will you give it up and accept the truth about Christ presented in God’s Word? Will you choose “healthy living?”
“When we make Jesus Christ and the Christian revelation only part of a total religious system or philosophy, we cease to give Him the preeminence. When we strive for ‘spiritual perfection’ or ‘spiritual fullness’ by means of formulas, disciplines, or rituals, we go backward instead of forward. Christian believers must beware of mixing their Christian faith with such alluring things as yoga, transcendental meditation, Oriental mysticism, and the like. We must also beware of ‘deeper life’ teachers who offer a system for victory and fullness that bypasses devotion to Jesus Christ. In all things, He must have the preeminence!” (Constable’s Notes on Colossians, p. 36)
The Remedy for Infection
Here’s the truth that prevents and cures spiritual infection regarding Jesus Christ and our salvation through Him, so aptly worded by a dear Bible teacher (Vickie Kraft) in the 1980’s:
Jesus Christ is above all powers and authorities, in all believers, and is all we need for earth and heaven!